Nielsen pulls back report suggesting ESPN lost 621K pay-TV subs in October

Image: ESPN

Nielsen has pulled back for review its monthly pay-TV coverage report for November following protest from ESPN, which said data indicating that its flagship channel alone lost 621,000 subscribers in October can’t be right. 

“The Nielsen numbers represent a dramatic, unexplainable variation over prior months’ reporting, affecting all cable networks,” ESPN said in a statement. “We have raised this issue with Nielsen in light of their demonstrated failures over the years to accurately provide subscriber data. The data does not track our internal analysis nor does it take into account new DMVPD (virtual MVPD platforms like Sling TV) entrants into the market.”

RELATED: ESPN has lost another 2.2M subs since February, Nielsen says

According to Awful Announcing, cable networks were hit hard in general, with CNN losing 617,000 pay-TV subscribers, Fox News losing 571,000 and MSNBC hemorrhaging 530,000 homes. NBA TV is recorded to have lost 733,000 homes. 

“Earlier today, we published a story 'ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU lose a combined 1.9 million homes in latest cable estimates' based on the latest Nielsen cable coverage numbers for November. Those numbers showed that on average, cable networks lost an average of 650,000 homes, a very high amount. According to Nielsen, ESPN lost 621,000 homes, ESPN2 dropped by 607,000 and ESPNU was out in 674,000," the article said.

Nielsen's decision to pull the report came with a promise to investigate the data. “Nielsen is investigating a larger than usual change in the November 2016 Cable Network Coverage Universe Estimates (versus the prior month). We take the accuracy of our data very seriously and are conducting a thorough analysis to determine whether or not there is an issue with these estimates,” Nielsen said in a statement. 

Earlier this year, Nielsen did the same thing, eventually lowering an estimate that originally had ESPN losing 417,000 homes in January. 

The issue is partly related to the transition of many homes to digital services like Sling TV and Sony PlayStation Vue, which aren’t tabulated by Nielsen. The problem is only going to get more challenging, of course, with AT&T about to debut its virtual MVPD service DirecTV Now.

As for ESPN, Nielsen also had ESPN 2 (down 607,000 subs) and ESPNU (off 674,000) losing large numbers of users.