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Live Sports Still Rules TV Roost

The year 2015 will go down as a championship campaign, ratings-wise, for live sports programming — and particularly for live sports telecasts emanating from cable networks.

Live sports telecasts represented 19 of the top 25 programs on cable this year, according to ESPN, which is poised to finish as the most watched network on cable for the year in primetime.

Most cable networks carrying live sports events this year either set ratings records or generated strong performances from their coverage. ESPN set an all-time cable ratings record by drawing 33.6 million viewers for the Ohio State-Oregon College Football National Championship game on Jan. 12, while TBS garnered a network-record 16.7 million viewers for the Kentucky-Wisconsin NCAA men’s basketball Final Four national semifinal game on April 4.

Sports fans dished out record amounts of cash for pay-per-view events in 2015, bolstered by the May 2 Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight, which obliterated all pay-per-view event-revenue records by generating $400 million.

Sports fans also chatted up the year’s biggest sports events on Twitter, including NBC’s Feb. 1 New England- Seattle Super Bowl telecast, which drew a television show-high 25 million tweets, according to Nielsen.

With increased viewing via digital video recorder, video- on-demand and TV everywhere platforms taking a bite out of traditional TV entertainment-network ratings in 2015, sports telecasts remain one of the few video properties that continue to be DVR-proof and more than hold their value in the evolving television marketplace.

As more live sports games make their way onto digital platforms through TV Everywhere services like Watch ESPN and over-the-top game packages like “NBA League Pass,” the value of such content undoubtedly will continue to rise as distributors jockey to secure rights to content that will draw not only hard-to-reach male viewers, but legions of casual sports fans across all demos.

The beat will seemingly to go on in 2016 as big events such as Super Bowl 50 and the 2016 Summer Olympics — along with technological advances such as 4K and virtual reality — promise to further enhance the broad appeal of live sports programming and provide a win-win ratings scenario for distributors across traditional and digital platforms, as well as social media.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.