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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hiestand/USA Today: World Series no sweep for Fox in TV ratings

The seven lowest-rated World Series have come in the last seven years. And after Fox didn’t get much help Saturday night, its World Series looks on track to be the lowest-rated ever.

Which is weird, as there aren’t any obvious explanations for this Series to set that record. And that has to be troubling for Fox, which this month signed an eight-year extension for MLB TV rights that includes the World Series. MLB doubled its overall national TV money in also re-signing TBS and ESPN.
Good timing by MLB to get those checks guaranteed to be in the mail.

The WS averaged a 7.6 rating and a 12 share in 2012, the lowest ever. Each game’s rating was the lowest ever for the given game (i.e., Game 2 was the lowest-rated Game 2 ever).

I’ve been looking at this for several years now, and unlike Hiestand I’m under the impression that these numbers, while the lowest ever, are slightly higher than expectations. And they have been for most of the last few years.

I have a simple model I’ve been using to forecast Series ratings for a while now. The original model was built in 2007 based on 1971-2006 data. The newer model is slightly enhanced and is fit based on data through 2011. The elements are as follows:

Length: Ratings go up for the Series the longer the Series goes. A 7-game series will get higher ratings than a sweep. Around +1 rating point per game added to the average rating.

Year: Assumption is that ratings started a slow and steady decline in the late 1970s, about -0.3 rating point per year.

Network: Yes, there is empirically a FOX penalty.

Market(s): Different TV markets attract different ratings. Both models have a 4-point swing in total depending on the teams involved; the two models have different bonuses by team, mostly because…

Drought: In the newer model I’ve added a component signifying that a given team is ending a huge championship drought. How huge? Phillies (1980), Red Sox (2004), and White Sox (2005) are the only qualifiers, so 86 years minimum. There’s a 4 point ratings bonus for this in the newer model. The older model doesn’t have this component, and as such the Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia markets get a bigger bonus in that model than they do in the newer version.

Based on the actual 2012 Series info - Giants vs. Tigers, on FOX, in 4 games - the models predict as follows:

old model: 6.9 rating
new model: 5.6 rating

...both of which are below the actual rating of 7.6.

One of the interesting things is that if I go back and generate a “prediction” on the model data, both models are generally underpredicting recent years. (The new model underpredicts back to 2006; the old model, back to 2003.) This means one of 5 things:

1. Randomness. Not buying this one, but it is possible that the deviation from the model is random.

2. I’m not using the proper model form. This is just linear regression; maybe there’s something better.

3. I’m missing something important.

4. FOX isn’t so bad any more. Maybe the sizable gap between FOX and NBC/CBS is no longer what it was.

5. MLB is no longer in decline, and hasn’t been for many years now.

Regardless, ratings are beating my expectations, even if they suck.

villageidiom Posted: October 30, 2012 at 08:47 AM | 39 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: giants, tigers, tv ratings, world series

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   1. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: October 30, 2012 at 01:11 PM (#4288381)
If a prediction model consistently has error in the same direction, then there's a flaw in the model.
   2. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: October 30, 2012 at 01:22 PM (#4288396)
Which is weird, as there aren’t any obvious explanations for this Series to set that record.

Of course there are, and they've been explained in this space many times, including this year when this new low was predicted a couple weeks ago.

The postseason crapshoot does not appeal to many fans, particularly neutrals, and it's appealing less and less as time marches on. In important places like New York, its appeal to participant fanbases themselves is eroding.

   3. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: October 30, 2012 at 01:25 PM (#4288403)
I'm tired of defending baseball TV ratings. I don't care if no one else is watching. Most of the shows I like have pretty low ratings - Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Community, 30 Rock, all get dwarfed by crap like Dancing with the Stars and Two and a Half Men. So what? I have my niche TV watching, and I'm happy with that so long as they don't cancel the World Series due to low ratings.
   4. bunyon Posted: October 30, 2012 at 01:27 PM (#4288406)
Ratings drop will only matter if networks aren't falling all over themselves to pay massive amounts of money for broadcasting rights. If they are, then there is no problem.
   5. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: October 30, 2012 at 01:44 PM (#4288421)
FOX's slow-mo camera drew the very first raves about FOX coverage on this board that I can ever remember.
   6. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: October 30, 2012 at 02:29 PM (#4288461)
I'm tired of defending baseball TV ratings. I don't care if no one else is watching. Most of the shows I like have pretty low ratings - Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Community, 30 Rock, all get dwarfed by crap like Dancing with the Stars and Two and a Half Men. So what? I have my niche TV watching, and I'm happy with that so long as they don't cancel the World Series due to low ratings.


Seconded. It's fine that there are people out there who don't care but that's not going to change my approach. I find it odd that there are baseball fans out there who wouldn't be greatly interested in baseball games being played but there are odder things in this world.
   7. Gary Truth Serum Posted: October 30, 2012 at 02:45 PM (#4288474)
If a prediction model consistently has error in the same direction, then there's a flaw in the model.

It appears the errors are serially correlated and thus suggest an ARIMA time series model rather than standard regression. An ordinary regression model assumes the errors are uncorrelated with each other and thus will estimate incorrectly if they are actually correlated with time. A model that is autoregressive (regressing on prior values), moving average (regressing on the error terms for prior values), or that models the differences between successive years may be the way to go here.
   8. AndrewJ Posted: October 30, 2012 at 03:44 PM (#4288545)
FOX's slow-mo camera drew the very first raves about FOX coverage on this board that I can ever remember.


Because if there's one thing about baseball, it's not slow enough.
   9. puck Posted: October 30, 2012 at 03:49 PM (#4288552)
Ratings drop will only matter if networks aren't falling all over themselves to pay massive amounts of money for broadcasting rights. If they are, then there is no problem

Why do they keep paying massive amounts of money if the ratings are falling? I can see why a new channel would pay big if it's trying to get added to a basic tier on a bunch of providers. But why FOX/TBS? Is television viewing that fragmented that even with the decline in ratings, it's still attractive to advertisers?
   10. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: October 30, 2012 at 03:49 PM (#4288553)
I find it odd that there are baseball fans out there who wouldn't be greatly interested in baseball games being played but there are odder things in this world.

The question is, why do so many of them work for Fox's World Series broadcast team?
   11. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: October 30, 2012 at 04:06 PM (#4288576)

Why do they keep paying massive amounts of money if the ratings are falling? I can see why a new channel would pay big if it's trying to get added to a basic tier on a bunch of providers. But why FOX/TBS? Is television viewing that fragmented that even with the decline in ratings, it's still attractive to advertisers?


My guess is:

1. Prestige
2. The ratings, even while falling, are only falling by small amounts.
3. Sports hits a key demographic in 18-34 men, and is more popular for advertisers, even if overall ratings are falling.
4. Sports aren't DVRed and fast-forwarded through like most programming, so its a great platform to advertise your other shows (for example, I was not aware a few weeks ago that there is a show called "Ben and Kate.")
5. If FOX does not let Cleatus the robot stretch his legs out every few weeks, he goes on a killing rampage, which is how we lost Herman's Head.
   12. Steve Treder Posted: October 30, 2012 at 04:38 PM (#4288616)
4. Sports aren't DVRed and fast-forwarded through like most programming, so its a great platform to advertise your other shows (for example, I was not aware a few weeks ago that there is a show called "Ben and Kate.")

I'm pretty sure this is the driving factor. Sports has a bigger bang for the buck than other shows, for both ad-buyers and the network selling the ad time.
   13. Flynn Posted: October 30, 2012 at 04:46 PM (#4288624)
3. Sports hits a key demographic in 18-34 men, and is more popular for advertisers, even if overall ratings are falling.


I would also add that World Series baseball is popular among the 49+ demographic, and that this demo is becoming more appealing to advertisers because it's got more money kicking around than a bunch of 27 year olds who are waiting tables and have Master's debt. The World Series doesn't actually do THAT well with 18-49s, so the ratings must be coming from the older demo.
   14. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: October 30, 2012 at 04:55 PM (#4288638)
Why do they keep paying massive amounts of money if the ratings are falling? I can see why a new channel would pay big if it's trying to get added to a basic tier on a bunch of providers. But why FOX/TBS? Is television viewing that fragmented that even with the decline in ratings, it's still attractive to advertisers?


What I wonder about is how the ratings account for sports bars. That's not necessarily people glued to the screen and they miss out on the sound of the ads typically but given the number of people who watch sporting events in bars (or are at bars when games are on) that seems like a material number.
   15. Walt Davis Posted: October 30, 2012 at 05:18 PM (#4288672)
As #4 points out, follow the money.

I mean passages like this from the article are just silly:

that has to be troubling for Fox, which this month signed an eight-year extension for MLB TV rights that includes the World Series. MLB doubled its overall national TV money in also re-signing TBS and ESPN.
Good timing by MLB to get those checks guaranteed to be in the mail.


Really? You think the networks didn't know that the last 6 had been the lowest ratings ... or they did but they were expecting this year to go through the roof? If the last 6/10/20 World Series weren't troubling to Fox before they signed that contract, why would this year's cause any concern?

Fair enough, I don't understand why Fox et al would pay that much to televise baseball but then I don't understand why the Tigers would pay Prince Fielder that much (for that long) to play baseball. But I am fairly comfortable thinking that, at least on average, all these major corporations are making decisions that impact positively on their bottom line and therefore, at least on average, these decisions are rational. Sure, at some point this bubble will burst.

   16. Flynn Posted: October 30, 2012 at 05:21 PM (#4288675)
What I wonder about is how the ratings account for sports bars. That's not necessarily people glued to the screen and they miss out on the sound of the ads typically but given the number of people who watch sporting events in bars (or are at bars when games are on) that seems like a material number.


They don't, which is probably not a big deal in terms of MLB vs. NFL, but is a big deal in terms of sports vs. other TV shows.
   17. cardsfanboy Posted: October 30, 2012 at 05:29 PM (#4288684)
Of course there are, and they've been explained in this space many times, including this year when this new low was predicted a couple weeks ago.

The postseason crapshoot does not appeal to many fans, particularly neutrals, and it's appealing less and less as time marches on. In important places like New York, its appeal to participant fanbases themselves is eroding.



The appeal of the larger expanded playoffs is more teams competing longer into the season, it maintains popularity in September months for more teams than there was in the past, at the cost of getting people to care more about the early rounds of the playoffs that they aren't potentially vested in.

Ratings is by far, the dumbest way to rate the appeal of a sport though. (ok, I imagine there are dumber ways, but you would have to be a Texas school board member to come up with them)

I don't think there is sufficient evidence to say that it doesn't appeal to neutrals, ratings are going down because ratings everywhere is going down. Baseball has the advantage of being a sport that people can like without having to watch every single second of it.
   18. villageidiom Posted: October 30, 2012 at 06:45 PM (#4288749)
If a prediction model consistently has error in the same direction, then there's a flaw in the model.
Items 2 through 5 in the intro reflect potential flaws in the model.
An ordinary regression model assumes the errors are uncorrelated with each other and thus will estimate incorrectly if they are actually correlated with time.
Items 4 and 5 reflect errors associated with time. Specifically, they reflect that the accounting of time - a long, slow decline - that works to describe the activity of the prior 30+ years no longer applies in recent years.

My goal is not necessarily to build a perfectly predictive model. My goal is to set a baseline expectation, so I can understand and quantify (a) what contributes to ratings, and (b) when things change from the expectation. As I learn, I can build a better model; but my goal is to learn, by quantifying what contributes to ratings.

While Hiestand can't understand why ratings are the lowest ever, I can say either of my models would have predicted this Series - given it featured Tigers/Giants, on FOX, in a 4-game sweep - to have the lowest ratings ever. And that's not because it's under-predicting; it predicted (correctly) increases in 2007, 2009, and 2011. The underprediction in recent years is fairly consistent, rather than growing.

But that brings me back to the question of why the underprediction is happening. It's not that the model is getting progressively worse. It's that something changed in the 2003-06 range of years that is out of step with the established pattern, almost a phase shift of improved ratings. I suspect it could be that more people consider FOX to be a viable option for viewing - they were #1 in overall ratings for the first time in 2005 - but MLB attendance numbers are also up in that time. Or maybe there's something else afoot. (It could be, of course, that I'm screwing something else up.)

So, yeah, I could build a time series model, or use a moving average, or such, and that could improve the model for 2013. However, that doesn't enlighten me on why things have changed. It would just account for the changes and move on, and that's not my goal.
   19. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 30, 2012 at 06:50 PM (#4288755)
It doesn't really matter that the ratings are lower than in the past - what matters is (1) whether the rating is higher than the alternatives in that time period - which is usually if not always the case - and (2) whether the broadcasts are attracting the money-spenders, which the other posts have already mentioned.

-- MWE
   20. villageidiom Posted: October 30, 2012 at 07:01 PM (#4288766)
4. Sports aren't DVRed and fast-forwarded through like most programming, so its a great platform to advertise your other shows (for example, I was not aware a few weeks ago that there is a show called "Ben and Kate.")

I'm pretty sure this is the driving factor. Sports has a bigger bang for the buck than other shows, for both ad-buyers and the network selling the ad time.
Ads are embedded throughout the game as well, so even if you DVR and skip the between-inning ads you will still be subjected to "this stolen base was brought to you by Taco Bell, and the replay of the stolen base was brought to you by Bud Light, and the game summary mentioning the stolen base is brought to you by AT&T..." and so on. Only in live events can they get away with this effectively.
   21. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: October 30, 2012 at 07:23 PM (#4288777)

I don't think there is sufficient evidence to say that it doesn't appeal to neutrals, ratings are going down because ratings everywhere is going down


The NFL is fine thanks. The World Series ratings are a little lower each year because baseball is a little less popular every year. That's the takeaway. Doesn't mean baseball is in trouble, doesn't mean baseball is going away anytime soon. Baseball will continue to plod along and it's increasingly boring pace, shunning technology, and each generation will be a little more ambivalent to it's existence. But it will hang in there, at least until we're all dead and gone.
   22. Walt Davis Posted: October 30, 2012 at 08:38 PM (#4288826)
shunning technology

You mean the sport which is widely viewed as the one which has done the best job leveraging the internet for delivery, with MLBAM the envy of virtually every online entity? The same technology-shunning industry that has used pitch/fx, etc. to more accurately measure what's going on in the game? The same technology-shunning industry that pioneered the use of statistical analysis in its industry? Hell, MLB will probably be the first sport to provide us with Star Trek-style replicators so we can "enjoy" Dodger dogs when we catch the Mars Warriors vs. the Mercury Flash* while on vacation.

*Yes, unfortunately, a singular team name will finally be used in baseball, approved by Bud Selig IV.
   23. Cooper Nielson Posted: October 30, 2012 at 10:10 PM (#4288885)
Baseball has the advantage of being a sport that people can like without having to watch every single second of it.

This is a good point. At this point it's hard to imagine football (at least at the NFL level) existing without TV, baseball can still be avidly enjoyed on the radio, on a live game-tracker in the corner of your computer screen, in online box scores, or even (still) in the next morning's paper.

Living overseas, I have gone through entire seasons where I didn't (couldn't) watch a single baseball game on TV, but I still checked my fantasy team every day, looked at all the box scores, visited Baseball Primer, etc.

It would be nice if baseball's postseason TV ratings were higher, but as a measure of the sport's health, it's probably not even one of the top 10 most important thinsg. (In no particular order: tickets sold, local TV ratings throughout the year, fantasy baseball participation, online page views of baseball-related sites, etc.)
   24. Pat Rapper's Delight Posted: October 30, 2012 at 10:28 PM (#4288893)
In important places like New York, its appeal to participant fanbases themselves is eroding.

Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no…no, no, not at all. I, I, I just ... that the.. uh.. the World Series's appeal is becoming more selective.
   25. base ball chick Posted: October 30, 2012 at 11:57 PM (#4288964)
it would help if the broadcasters were good

it would help if they showed, like, you know, like the GAME!!! instead of various maroon fox tv actors. but they are there not to broadcast anything but ads. really. that and pimping their other shows. after all these years we still remember that some guy/girl's father IS THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY!!! even if we can't remember the name of the show or who was in it. And some maroon was RISKING A PATIENT'S LIFE!!!!! and franktv was gonna be like WOW!!! and this year, what will be remembered is FREE TACOS!!!!!

the ads make money, casual viewers must like monotone buck and McMaroon, and every one knows ALL about getting a FREE TACO!!!!!

the networks market the sport of baseball around 4 glamour teams and anyone who might could be a STAH!!! who is east coast and unfortunately, this leaves out 26 teams and they don't know what to do with themselves for the postseason

they were all totally lost because of No Red Sox and bobby valentine being crazy wasn't enough of a storyline for a postseason. and the giants didn't even have beardman wilson. the tigers had some fat guys. including that hispanic who won some title or other who cares because he don't speaka da inlish goood and isn't charismatic.

and pimping Team Chemistry!!! doesn't really attract eyeballs

there is so much interruption of games for ads/stupid interviews overriding the game/terrible camera angles showing nose hairs and crotch scratching if you don't know anything about baseball, it's hard to follow. you disbelieve me, watch any game from, say, the early 70s.

but like mike sez, "low ratings"!!!!! don't mean a thang as long as the eyes they want are upon it
   26. danup Posted: October 31, 2012 at 03:18 AM (#4289034)
RATINGS+ would be useful right about now. Network ratings have been in decline for a while; it'd be interesting to see whether the World Series traces that.
   27. Sleepy supports unauthorized rambling Posted: October 31, 2012 at 03:44 AM (#4289035)
Anecdotally, I had trouble finding the games this year, at least until I figured out where they were, and my GF (a huge Giants fan, goes to 20+ games a year) turned a game on in the 7th inning because she "didn't see that it was on". On my end, I'm not sure if this was because this is my first year with Directv, or if it's because I was somewhat preoccupied, but if I didn't know ahead of time that they were going to be on channel 2, I never would have known to watch them. Big part of that is that I never watch anything below the 100's; network news bores me, I don't really watch sitcoms, etc. But I'm probably not the only one who had issues with that, and that can't help with the ratings.
   28. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: October 31, 2012 at 03:47 AM (#4289036)
If each round of the playoffs was just one game long, and games were only scheduled on weekends, with the one-game World No-Longer-a-Series already known to be scheduled for 6:15 PM on Sunday, October 24th, 2015, then a direct comparison between MLB ratings and NFL ratings would be more suitable. Conversely, put 4 to 7 Super Bowls on TV every year and see whether the numbers hold up. And that's before getting into a 21st-century broadcasting landscape that would make William Paley jump out of a window, and slit his wrists on the way down just to be sure.
   29. shock Posted: October 31, 2012 at 04:24 AM (#4289040)
yes Walt, the same one.

i wonder if any interest in the game could be drawn if we could have baseball clips on YouTube and link them to friends. shock horror.

mlb. tv and it's blackout horseshit is appealing only to the diehards. and pitch fx is only appealing to basement dwelling nerds like us.
   30. madvillain Posted: October 31, 2012 at 04:54 AM (#4289043)
Anecdotally, I had trouble finding the games this year, at least until I figured out where they were, and my GF (a huge Giants fan, goes to 20+ games a year) turned a game on in the 7th inning because she "didn't see that it was on". On my end, I'm not sure if this was because this is my first year with Directv, or if it's because I was somewhat preoccupied


It's the latter. WS games have all been at 8pm east for at least the last few years. Also with direct TV hit the red button it will show you all the sports.
   31. Flynn Posted: October 31, 2012 at 07:23 AM (#4289060)
i wonder if any interest in the game could be drawn if we could have baseball clips on YouTube and link them to friends. shock horror.


Or you could just watch and link to the clips on MLB.com.

mlb. tv and it's blackout horseshit is appealing only to the diehards.


MLB.TV has something like 2.5 million subscribers and charges 1/3rd of what the NFL charges for the same service, despite having 10x the games.

Blackouts you say? Watch the game on cable, you nudnik.

and pitch fx is only appealing to basement dwelling nerds like us.


Considering it took the NFL years to figure out there was enormous unsatisfied demand for All-22 I am not keen on trashing MLB for coming out with PitchFX.

Oh, and MLB At Bat is one of the best selling apps in the history of the iPhone. Six million subscribers this year. No other sport has anything like it.
   32. TerpNats Posted: October 31, 2012 at 08:52 AM (#4289080)
it would help if the broadcasters were good
Even when doing the World Series, Joe Buck gives the impression that he'd rather be doing an NFL game...preferably one involving Fox's vaunted NFC East. I turned the sound down and listened to ESPN radio, whose broadcasts had somewhat less bull (not entirely of course; after all, it's ESPN).
   33. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: October 31, 2012 at 09:04 AM (#4289082)
Even when doing the World Series, Joe Buck gives the impression that he'd rather be doing an NFL game...preferably one involving Fox's vaunted NFC East. I turned the sound down and listened to ESPN radio, whose broadcasts had somewhat less bull (not entirely of course; after all, it's ESPN).


I thought Buck was a lot better this year than in the past. He ain't Scully or even his old man but I thought he did a good job.

Or you could just watch and link to the clips on MLB.com.


I do this quite a bit. What I find frustrating though is that I often have to sit through a 15 or 30 second commercial before seeing the clip which greatly reduces the number of clips I watch. It's silly to watch a 15 second commercial to see a brief highlight. On the other hand you're 100% right about MLB At Bat. Holy crap is that wonderful. And no ads when I watch clips there. I often find myself watching a condensed West Coast game while laying in bed when I wake up in the morning.
   34. villageidiom Posted: October 31, 2012 at 09:19 AM (#4289090)
Even when doing the World Series, Joe Buck gives the impression that he'd rather be doing an NFL game
If they stuck me with Tim McCarver for every MLB game, I'd rather work the NFL, too. That aside, I agree with Jose in 33.
   35. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: October 31, 2012 at 09:37 AM (#4289110)
approved by Bud Selig IV.

At this point it's more likely to be the preserved head of Bud Selig I. Someone here posted the collection of times when he renewed his contract and said it was the last time. At least 4, I think. The guy's never going away.
   36. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: October 31, 2012 at 09:51 AM (#4289120)
Conversely, put 4 to 7 Super Bowls on TV every year and see whether the numbers hold up.


The nationally televised games on SNF and MNF are typically among the highest rated shows of the week among all shows.

Your other points are valid - its driven by fantasy football, gambling, one-event per week, etc.
   37. cardsfanboy Posted: November 01, 2012 at 05:30 PM (#4290366)
RATINGS+ would be useful right about now. Network ratings have been in decline for a while; it'd be interesting to see whether the World Series traces that.


That would be an awesome concept.
   38. Greg K Posted: November 01, 2012 at 05:38 PM (#4290373)
Do any of the other sports obsess over ratings the way baseball does? I don't recall NHL fans being in a tizzy over the latest released results, and god knows that league is actually in trouble.

So long as there's enough money in MLB to attract the best players in the world I couldn't care less.
   39. cardsfanboy Posted: November 01, 2012 at 06:23 PM (#4290417)
Do any of the other sports obsess over ratings the way baseball does?


It's fans of the other sports that want to claim that somehow baseball is no longer the most popular sport in the U.S. or insane baseball fans who are hard core traditional zealots, that want to use the ratings to somehow claim that progress is hurting baseball.

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