ESPN Shifts to Total Audience Ratings for 'Monday Night Football'

ESPN says it will begin reporting the viewership of its programs starting with Monday Night Football games based on Total Audience data that includes live TV, streaming and out-of-home viewing starting with the Dallas Cowboys-Arizona Cardinals game on Sept. 25.

Football ratings have been down and it is important for networks including ESPN to make sure that as consumers watch games on multiple platforms and on different devices, the entire audience gets counted.

ESPN is working with Nielsen, which has been working to have its ratings keep up with the changing television environment by creating its Total Audience framework.

Related: Disney Direct-to-Consumer App Getting Marvel, Star Wars

Ed Erhardt, ESPN’s global sales and marketing president, said that when the network sold ads for this season it decided to have the same ads on both TV--ESPN and ESPN2--and its streaming platforms. He said all of its advertising clients have agreed to negotiate based on the combined audience number. (ESPN programming on ABC is handled differently.)

ESPN has also signed up for Nielsen’s out-of-home audience measurement, which counts viewing in bars, hotel rooms, summer houses and other locations. Erhardt said more than half of the media buyers it deals with have agreed to include the out of home audience in their negotiations.

Erhardt noted that in the digital world, a lot of streaming viewing is self-reported, and that advertisers are suspicious of those numbers.

“With all of the self-reporting that’s going on in our business, this is utilizing a trusted third-party source that the currency is based upon that provides a total audience picture in every way,” he said.

ESPN will report the live TV numbers the day after the game is played. About 95% of ESPN's viewership is live. A week later, it will have streaming numbers and a week after that it will have the out-of-home viewership. Those numbers will be rolled up into a total audience figure.

David Coletti, VP of ESPN Media Intelligence said that ESPN expects that the numbers should be higher with more viewing sources included. The streaming audience tends to skew younger, which should mean 5% to 7% increases on millennial audiences, he said. Out of home viwing also amplifies younger audiences, Coletti said. With both streaming and out-of-home included, “we’ll see some very healthy increment audience adds.”

This week, ESPN is expecting a particularly big increase in ratings from last year because the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton aired a year ago, which drew 84 million viewers.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.