The NBA Finals are here, traditionally a signpost of where TV sports popularity stands. Depending upon where the spin is coming from, this year’s numbers so far are either encouraging, devastating or inconclusive.
From the positive side, viewership through the first two games was up approximately +18% vs. last year’s finals. From the negative side, viewership was down roughly a third from the 2019 finals, and roughly half of where it was in 2017, when the LeBron James vs. Steph Curry storyline and an exciting seven-game series helped the league reach its most recent zenith. There could not be more meaningless apples and oranges comparisons anywhere in media.
For one thing, in 2019 these finals were conducted in June, in 2020 in October (against baseball post-season) and this year in July. Overall HUT levels differ greatly seasonally. Aside from the competitive sports factor, overall streaming viewership has increased dramatically. As we’ve previously noted, Nielsen is woefully inadequate with both how much streaming viewership it captures and how timely their information is. Finally, the unique circumstances of this particular summer–with a plurality of America literally beginning to emerge from an 18-month cocoon, both the intense desire to leave their homes and the availability of device-viewing options that Nielsen does not include–leaves us highly skeptical that any viewership numbers being reported so far this year have any relevence to historic benchmarks,.
There’s a lot more than bragging rights at stake here. With upcoming rights negotiations in play that will likely soar into eleven figures, and with streaming rights more valuable than ever to bidders (which will likely include Amazon, Apple and potentially HBO Max), which truth emerges as more credible will ultimately determine the final price tag and destination for a sport universally acclaimed to have the most global and generational upside in the U.S., and arguably just below soccer globally.
The fact that incomplete information dominates the debate is unconsciousable. Within the next few weeks, we hope to announce our involvement in an exciting new measurement project that will attempt to produce a more inclusive and statistically valid measurement of total media consumption without the degree of delay that Nielsen is currently compromised by. The Olympics will likely be the subject of this project, yet another bellweather for how and where sports are viewed in 2021. We look forward to a new interpreration of data truer to Leblanguage–honesty and integrity.
Until next time….