The U.S. Open Tennis tournament begins in New York today, Aug. 22, which is bittersweet for fans whose jobs get in the way of following the matches. There’s always DVR, but tennis fans, like baseball and basketball devotees, like to watch their sports live.
That jibes with the conventional wisdom that sports is the only kind of television that is still reliably watched live, safe from commercial-skipping time-shifters. Our analysis of TV ratings from Ebiquity, a media- and marketing-analytics firm, shows which genres of programming experience the most gain from recorded audiences. Not surprisingly, drama shows lead the way in recorded viewings, which may be one reason cable network FX recently announced it would no longer issue press releases on TV ratings based on a single day’s viewing. The channel—known for such dramas as Sons of Anarchy, Justified, American Horror Story, and Fargo—is the top cable network in terms of gaining additional audience in the week after a show airs, according to the data from Ebiquity.
Sports is at the bottom of the recorded list—if not uniformly. TV audiences treat golf, auto racing, and wrestling far more like dramas than sporting events, often watching them in the seven days that follow their airing. Soccer benefits when ratings take into account a week’s worth of viewing, which makes sense: Fans in the U.S. have to compensate for games played in European time zones.
Surprisingly, NFL games, which benefit from the richest television sports contract, pick up 6 percent in additional viewership across the week—almost double what college football games do. Despite the common assumption that everybody watches these games live, plenty of people are recording and watching them long after the game has been decided. In the end, pro football viewership from recorded audiences is only slightly less than the 7 percent average pickup for all television shows.