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Pierce: Local, late-night TV sports shows decline dramatically

Published December 10, 2013 3:55 pm

Sports on TV • There's no easy explanation, but local teams' failures certainly didn't help.
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Are Utah's local, late-night TV sports shows dead?

No. But they're not looking too healthy.

This is not a comment on the quality of late-night sports shows on KUTV, KSL, KSTU and KTVX. It's not like there's been some sudden falloff — although you have to wonder if some of the attempts at comedy are counterproductive.

But November was not a good month for the shows. Despite the fact that there are fewer of them than there used to be, the ratings for the local, late-night sports shows fell dramatically from November 2012 to November 2013, according to Nielsen.

KUTV-Channel 2 continues to have the two highest-rated of those programs in Utah. But the Sunday edition of "Talkin' Sports" fell 44 percent to a 3.5 rating; the Saturday edition of "Talkin' Sports" fell 49 percent to a 3.2 rating.

(A ratings point represents 1 percent of the 917,370 homes Nielsen estimates are in the Salt Lake television market; a share point represents 1 percent of the homes where someone is actually watching TV at a given time.)

The "Talkin' Sports" declines are not good. And those are not isolated instances.

KSL's "SportsBeat Sunday" was down 57 percent to a 1.5 rating. KSTU's "Sports Page" was down 31 percent, also to a 1.5 rating. KTVX's new "Real Sports Live" was down 61 percent (in comparison to the programming that aired in the time slot a year earlier) to a 0.8 rating.

The weeknight edition "Talkin' Sports," which airs on KUTV's sister station, KMYU, fell by half, from a 0.6 rating to a 0.3 rating.

The outdoors shows showed similar declines. KUTV's "Hooked On Utah" was down 31 percent to a 1.5 rating; KSL's late-night airing of "Outdoors with Adam Eakle" was down 21 percent to a 1.4.

Much of this is completely out of the control of the local broadcasters. Ratings for local sports shows tend to be up when the local teams are doing well, and in November the big dogs in Utah sports — the Utah Jazz, the BYU football team, the Utah football team — were all bad to worse.

The Jazz were 2-13 during the November sweeps; BYU was 1-2 (with the only win coming over Idaho State); Utah was 0-3.

Yes, the Utah State football team went 3-0. And Real Salt Lake went 3-1, winning a Western Conference title in the process. But, as much as I'd like it to be different, neither of those teams has proven to be a huge ratings draw.

If the Jazz were not at the bottom of the rebuilding curve; if BYU had beaten Wisconsin and/or Notre Dame; if Utah had beaten anybody, there would have been more buzz. And more viewers tuning in.

It certainly didn't help that local late-news ratings were also down signficantly, providing less of a lead-in for the sports shows.

But are those the only reasons ratings fell? Or has the ability to go online, watch video clips, go on chatboards and all that made it tougher for late-night sports shows to attract an audience?

There's no way to calculate this using scientific methods — it's not a controlled experiment — but given what other more traditional media outlets (including newspapers) have experienced, that would certainly seem to be a big part of the problem.

Frankly, at this point it looks like KSL made the right choice in dumping one of its late-night "SportsBeats" in favor of "Saturday Night Live."

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.






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