ESPN, other sports networks return to sub growth thanks to census revision

ESPN Los Angeles

After a steady drumbeat of subscriber losses, ESPN and a number of national sports-programming networks actually grew their customer bases in August, according to Nielsen. 

The research company said ESPN expanded its audience base by just over 1.07 million viewers. Fox Sports 1 was up over 3.2 million. The NFL Network was up around 7.5 million customers.

The latter can be explained by the NFL’s carriage deal with Dish Network, which ended a blackout. 

As for ESPN, pundits say its narrow increase can be attributed to updated TV household numbers released by the Census Bureau. According to Nielsen, the U.S. added 2 million TV households in the 2015-16 season to reach 118.4 million total households. 

The subscriber numbers, of course, ebb and flow based on carriage deals and a number of other factors. But with ESPN, the most pricey network in the pay-TV ecosystem, losing millions of subscribers every year now, Nielsen’s data on network distribution is being carefully watched these days. 

Notably, these monthly Nielsen tallies do not include metrics for new virtual pay-TV systems like Sling TV. According to SNL Kagan, Sling has amassed more than 700,000 subscribers so far, most of which get ESPN. 

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