ESPN sees millennial viewership bump with streaming metrics

ESPN’s viewership numbers have received a healthy bump from Nielsen’s new Total Live Audience metric, which adds livestreaming and out-of-home (OOH) viewership to ESPN’s overall TV ratings.

Nielsen’s Total Live Audience is the latest in a string of new products aimed at capturing viewership that occurs outside of the traditional TV-viewing environment. ESPN, like nearly all the other TV networks, have suffered slow ratings declines over the past few years as viewers consume more programming on new platforms such as mobile apps and connected TVs.

Nielsen’s Total Audience metrics include viewership from mobile platforms, livestreaming TV services like Hulu and YouTube TV. ESPN was the first network to sign up for Nielsen’s new measurement.

Not surprisingly, millennials—which Nielsen defines as consumers aged 18-34—are streaming the most. In the seven weeks between Sept. 25 and Nov. 12, ESPN saw a 23% jump in day viewership, and a 28% jump in primetime viewership among millennials. For specific programming such as college football games, millennial viewership jumped a whopping 33% with streaming and OOH viewership added.

Year over year, ESPN’s millennial reach has seen a 4% increase in day viewership and a 13% increase in primetime viewership by including livestreaming and OOH viewing. Overall, Millennial viewers account for 46% of ESPN streaming, the network said.

ESPN’s SVP of fan and media intelligence, Cary Meyers, called the new metric “the only meaningful way to understand sports consumption,” and said it offers “key insights into our millennial viewers.”

Overall, livestreaming and OOH viewing grew ESPN’s total live audience by 14% across day and primetime, according to data from Nielsen. Among viewers aged 25-54, Nielsen’s livestreaming and OOH viewership added 18% to ESPN’s C3 ratings, which spans the live broadcast and three days after the broadcast.

The ratings bump is a bright spot for the network, ESPN has suffered a slow erosion of its subscriber base over the past three years, coupled with linear TV ratings dips quarter after quarter and further troubled by the recent NFL ratings declines. At the end of third-quarter 2017, ESPN ranked fifth among pay TV networks for primetime viewership, reaching an average of 1.4 million TV viewers overall.

The data will also help ESPN deliver more precise audience information to its advertising partners, which could help the network raise its advertising revenues. “We will continue to mine this data to not only inform us on how best to serve fans with our content, but also to guide advertisers on how best to optimize their brand on our platform with specific audiences,” Meyers said.