Here’s more evidence that when it comes to live sports, the real action is on TV rather than online: ESPN’s broadcast of the BCS National Championship game Monday marked the highest-rated cable broadcast ever, despite the fact that viewers could watch a stream of the game on the cable network’s online service, ESPN3.
Last night’s Auburn vs. Oregon nailbiter was watched, according to Nielsen, by 27,316,000 viewers and 17,718,000 households. To put things in perspective, the top-viewed program on broadcast television last night was ABC’s The Bachelor, with 8.67 million viewers.
While the game was breaking records on TV, though, the ESPN3.com stream wasn’t crushing any past online streaming victories: While it was the most-watched college football game online ever, with 619,000 unique viewers, its viewership fell behind three 2010 World Cup soccer matches.
The key difference there is while many World Cup matches were held during the day last summer, when more people would be working at their computers, while last night’s Tostito Bowl Championship was a prime-time television event. Thus, even with a free streaming option available, people chose to watch on television.
This goes to show two points:
1. Those who believe that providing an online option cannibalizes broadcast ratings (ahem, Steven Levitan) may be mistaken; online options simply reach a different audience that might not otherwise watch.
2. When given a choice between watching an event live on TV or on the computer, people prefer TV — which is why set-top boxes have such value and why connected televisions are poised to take over the industry.
Last night was a victory for ESPN and cable providers, but it’s important to remember that said victory speaks to the power of the television — a device no longer ruled by the cable box.
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