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MBPT Spotlight: MLB Network’s Sixth Year Is a Charm as Viewership Is Up Across the Board

The Major League Baseball Network in January celebrated its sixth anniversary and this season has started off with some ratings gains worth celebrating.

The month of April was the most-watched regular season month in the network’s history, averaging 253,000 viewers in primetime and 126,000 average total-day viewers. Those numbers were 30% higher in prime and 48% higher in total-day viewership than in April 2013. The increases placed MLB Network among the top five of all cable networks for total-day viewer growth during April 2014.

During the first four weeks of the 2014 season, the network’s live-plus-same-day viewership was up 50% among viewers 18-34, 50% in the 18-49 demo and 53% among adults 25-54. MLB’s live game telecasts in April averaged 267,000 viewers, a 15% increase over the same period last year.

In 2013, MLB Network’s viewership, compared to its first year in 2009, was up 160% in the 18-34 demo, 125% in the 18-49 demo and 100% in the 25-54 demo.

Bill Morningstar, executive VP of sales at MLB Network since it launched in January 2009, says growing a network from scratch takes time but the plan has been to build a solid lineup of daily programming that will increase audience through buzz and word of mouth.

“The philosophy of Tony Petitti [MLB Network’s president and CEO] has been if you’re going to open a store, you get the product and merchandising right,” Morningstar says. “We’ve put a tremendous amount of effort from the start on bringing in top-flight on-air talent and creating first-rate studios for our shows. Once we did that, our hope is that viewers find us, are drawn in and start telling their friends and by word-of-mouth each season, we grow. That’s how this network is building itself.”

The network in primetime will televise about 150 regular-season games this year, but its signature primetime show is MLB Tonight, which airs year-round, including seven days a week during the regular season. In addition to offering updates on games in progress and other baseball news, interviews, highlights and analysis, a key draw has been the net’s live look-ins at games being played each night. The network can go to any MLB stadium at any time to catch key moments or televise a brief portion of the game.

Things Looking Up

MLB Tonight, for the month of April in primetime, averaged 179,000 viewers for its live shows, a 39% increase over the same month last year.

Quick Pitch, the network’s daily highlights show, averaged 127,000 viewers for its live airings in April, up 38% over last year.

During the day, MLB Network’s midday studio show, The Rundown, averaged 90,000 viewers in April, an increase of 80% over last year. Its 4-5 p.m. daily show MLB Now, hosted by Brian Kenny, averaged 112,000 viewers, up 30% over last year. Its 5-6 p.m. daily show, Intentional Talk, hosted by Chris Rose and Kevin Millar, averaged 106,000 viewers, up 68% over 2013.

The network’s newest weekday studio show, High Heat with Christopher Russo, which premiered on March 31, has increased the time period by 83% in viewers compared to 2013.

The percentages are based on lower viewer totals so they tend to be higher, but across the board gains are across the board gains and Morningstar says the increases are coming against stiff sports competition on other networks each night, including the NBA and NHL playoffs and baseball on other networks.

Advertisers are also responding. Morningstar says the network has brought in more than 30 new advertisers this season across several categories. “Advertisers continue to look to reach viewers of live sports and we are one of those venues,” Morningstar says.