The summer of our NBC Sports Net discontent: Loud, louder, N.Y.-loudest … but the ratings bear out NBC’s business strategy

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You can put yourself in the position as a L.A. Daily News columnist and continue to raise the issue, like most in L.A. were Wednesday: Why was Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final featuring the Kings in the No. 2 TV market nationally, about to clinch a championship, relegated to Comcast’s NBC Sports Network cable outlet instead of KNBC-Channel 4?

An L.A. Times writer can offer the same rant, and perhaps be heard a little louder. It’s the nature of the numbers. As long as we’re all on the same page.

Add to that, finally, the New York Times.

Richard Sandomir, the longtime NYT media and business columnist, wrote Wednesday (linked here) under the headline: “Finding Hockey in Siberia, or in This Case, NBC Sports Network”:

Why has NBCSN clung to the two Stanley Cup finals games? NBC officials declined to respond to questions. But the strategy is clear. If NBCSN is to move beyond its current 80 million subscribers — at least 20 million fewer than ESPN or ESPN2 — and increase its subscriber fees, it needs programming to justify those goals. It has to persuade any recalcitrant cable systems, satellite operators and telephone companies to put NBCSN on the broadest possible digital tiers to expand its audience.

(The Siberia reference … nice. We’ve referred to NBCSN as the “Witness Protection Program Network”)

The N.H.L. boasts that all its playoff games are being carried nationally under the 10-year deal with the NBC Sports Group that began this season. That is technically true, but not as true as if NBC were showing all the finals to the broadest-possible national audience. Games 1 and 2 of Devils-Kings on NBC were seen by an average of 2.9 million viewers. Game 3 on NBCSN drew only 1.7 million viewers, a 37 percent tumble from nearly 2.8 million for the comparable game last year on Versus between the Bruins and Canucks. The latter figure might have been somewhat higher if Nielsen counted Canadian audiences.
Whether on cable or broadcast, series sweeps are death to ratings, especially with teams like the Devils and the Kings that lack strong national identities to attract a wider audience. The opposite is at play in the N.B.A. Eastern Conference finals, where Game 5 between the well-defined Boston Celtics and Miami Heat brands attracted almost 10.3 million viewers, the fifth most for an N.B.A. game on cable.

A ratings update: NBC Sports Network did a 1.4 overnight Nielsen rating for Wednesday’s Game 4, down 13 percent from the same game in the Boston-Vancouver game a year ago, and up against TNT’s series-clinching Oklahoma City-San Antonio NBA game, which did a 7.1 overnight.

The Kings-Devils did a 6.6 rating in L.A. — the highest local rating ever for an NHL game on NBCSN, and making it the No. 1 prime-time channel in the city last night.

Mission accomplished for NBC?

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