Thursday, October 27, 2011

On the WSOP Ratings

On the WSOP RatingsSpent a little time this week snooping around the web for Nielsen ratings for the WSOP broadcasts on ESPN. Not a simple thing to do, actually, although numbers can be found if one looks long enough.

I’d heard the overall ratings were down this year, and thus wanted to try to get some idea just how far they’d fallen. Main Event coverage began back in mid-August when they picked things up on Day 3 rather than start with the Day 1 flights as in past years. That means we’ve had 11 weeks’ worth of shows thus far, with next Tuesday’s shows carrying things up to the 10th-place elimination of John Hewitt, setting the stage for the almost-live November Nine coverage starting Sunday, November 6.

I wasn't able to find Nielsen Ratings for every single week, although by looking at a couple of different sites I did find a lot of them. Looks like in terms of total numbers of viewers the WSOP shows are tending to average somewhere between 550,000-600,000 overall. It looks like the audiences were a little bigger early on when the shows were coming at 8-10 p.m. (now they are usually airing 9-11 p.m., and sometimes later).

By comparison, nearly twice that many viewers (usually at least a million, often more) are routinely watching “Pardon the Interruption” earlier in the day. And of course ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” airing the night before -- frequently the most-watched weekly show on cable -- tends to draw something like 25 times as many viewers than does the WSOP.

The most-watched hour of WSOP programming I'm seeing from the weeks where I was able to locate numbers was the second hour on August 9 (9-10 p.m.) when 827,000 tuned in. The least-watched came a couple of weeks ago on October 11 when only 399,000 saw the first hour (9-10 p.m.).

(Like I say, there are some weeks I didn’t get the numbers, so there could’ve been higher peaks or lower valleys. If anyone can point me to better, more comprehensive numbers, please do.)

Incidentally, for those live WSOP telecasts back in July the average viewership was said to be 415,000 (for the ESPN2 shows), with the couple of primetime hours’ worth of coverage they showed on ESPN on July 19 drawing 615,000. Those numbers compared favorably to ratings for other mid-July shows and by most accounts helped make the case that the live (or almost-live) type programming was a successful experiment as far as attracting viewers was concerned.

So how do the 2011 WSOP ratings compare to 2010? Well, the average audience for the first seven weeks’ worth of shows last year was reportedly 737,000, so we’re definitely talking about a decent-sized decrease this year -- like by around 20% or more. Incidentally, that figure from last year was itself down about 16% from what they were getting in 2009.

I heard Dan Gati of Poker PROductions on this week’s Two Plus Two Pokercast talk about the upcoming coverage of the final table as well as what we’ve seen thus far. Addressing the dip in numbers, Gati suggested that one cause could be Black Friday and the fact that a lot of potential viewers aren’t tuning in because, well, they aren’t playing poker themselves.

There are no doubt other factors contributing to the decline, but that seemed like a reasonable assumption to make. There are a lot of folks who after a long time of playing poker online many times a week -- if not every single day -- have now gone six-plus months without playing at all. And there’s probably a good portion of those folks who’ve found other hobbies and recreational activities to replace poker, making the watching of others play poker a less likely option for them, too.

Of course, ESPN has called an audible here regarding the November Nine and their plans for covering it, deciding to forgo the planned-for two-hour final show and instead present many hours of almost-live coverage. (See here for details.)

Last year’s final “November Nine” show saw a big dip from 2009, with 1.563 million tuning in last year compared to 2.1 million the year before. If ESPN had stuck with the plan and done something similar this year with its finale, I think it would have been a safe bet that the figure would’ve slipped once again, perhaps dramatically.

As is, it will be interesting to find out just how many folks dial up ESPN and ESPN2 to watch the coverage of all the hands on Sunday, November 6 and Tuesday, November 8. And whether increasing hype over the event helps build a significant audience when things come to a climax on Tuesday.

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