Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sports and HD

We all know (or should know) how popular sports programming is on television. That fact is always brought up around Super Bowl time because five of the top 11 rated shows in U.S. history are sports programs, led by the 1982 Super Bowl (#3 all-time). Now it appears HD is helping make sports even more popular. According to Nielsen Media, ratings for sporting events in homes with HDTV are 30% higher than in homes with standard definition television. Is it possible we'll now see even more sports than ever before?

Probably not. For one thing, sports ratings is a zero-sum game. If a lot of people are watching the football game on FOX they can't be watching the golf match on NBC. Even with time-shifting and picture-in-picture technology, most people focus on only one thing at a time.

More importantly, the televised event needs some kind of storyline or compelling reason to watch. Sports Media Watch keeps tabs on how particular sports and athletes are doing in the ratings, and while the NBA and NFL are up, the NHL and golf are down. Why? The NBA has star power in LeBron and Kobe, but except for Tiger Woods there's almost no reason to watch golf (even Tiger has his limits; his runaway win last weekend had very low ratings).

Competition is great, but you need the big names and compelling stories to draw viewers. It will be interesting to see how next week's Super Bowl fares in these areas. The media have hyped the 'perfect season' angle for New England and the Manning ties for New York. But if the Patriots start blowing out the Giants early none of that will keep viewers interested.


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