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Jon Lewis on NASCAR’s TV Viewership: Streaming, Ratings, and the Changing Market

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There are very few things in NASCAR that strike a nerve like TV viewership and TV ratings. TV ratings are everything, but, the TV landscape is also changing. Streaming is starting to gain traction in the modern sports media market, but, how can fans interpret all of these numbers and terms in this complicated landscape?

Dr. Jon Lewis has been covering sports media since 2006, and he runs the website Sports Media Watch. What did he have to say about how the landscape of NASCAR TV ratings continues to change, and how could it affect the next TV deal?

What Do TV Ratings Actually Mean?

TV ratings are the type of thing that many NASCAR fans read about or will discuss, but it may be difficult to understand what they actually are. Well, according to Lewis, ratings are the average percentage of homes watching a program during the average minute. Therefore, a 2.2 rating, for example, would mean 2.2% of homes were watching a given program.

Viewership, however, is a different story. Lewis says this is the amount of people who are watching a particular program during the average minute that are two years old or older. These are the metrics that John uses on his website.

Now, many will look towards NASCAR TV ratings, and they will see how the landscape is changing with the introduction of streaming services. Some will look at streaming and think that the amount of people that are streaming now plays a major role in TV ratings. Do these streaming numbers actually play a role?

How Does Streaming REALLY Affect TV Ratings?

Well, streaming numbers for NASCAR may not be quite as high as some may think it is, and the impact may not be quite as big as some may claim. According to Lewis, anything related to cable counts towards Nielsen ratings and TV viewership.

If you’re streaming via a set-top box, if you’re streaming via YouTube TV, or something similar, DirecTV Stream, et cetera, et cetera, it will count towards the numbers.

Jon Lewis

Some may think that only pure cable TV would count, but Lewis says that is not the case. However, when it comes to streaming on an app like the Fox Sports App, the NBC Sports App, or Peacock, the story is a bit more complicated.

I believe that for the Fox Sports App streaming is included, the key is if it’s the same advertisements. I believe for NBC, I’m not sure if it’s the same advertisement for them, but I know that NBC’s streaming viewership is not included in the Nielsen numbers. For the Fox races, streaming viewership is included, for the NBC races, it isn’t.

Jon Lewis

Lewis notes that the streaming viewership not being included in NBC’s Nielsen ratings can make a big difference in other sports such as college football. He notes two college football games earlier in the year, Ohio State-Notre Dame and Colorado-Oregon, where the latter game got a larger viewership without streaming included, but the former had a larger viewership with streaming included.

For NASCAR, however, the difference is not quite as stark. While he was unable to provide many specifics when it comes to NASCAR streaming numbers on NBC, he did provide one example, the Chicago Street Race. That race garnered 164,000 viewers on streaming with 4.6 million viewers.

Obviously, that is not a major change, and would the average race garner that many viewers on streaming? Probably not, but adding nearly 200,000 viewers could be the difference in some races getting an increase in viewership, and others not. For example, the Southern 500 Darlington was down 50,000 viewers from one year ago, so, 50,000 extra streaming viewers means the same viewership.

NASCAR also has a TV deal coming up starting in 2025. What does Lewis have to say about the next TV deal?

Looking at the Next TV Deal

Despite the TV ratings going down at some points this year, Lewis does not preach panic on anything regarding the next NASCAR TV deal.

The reality is, at a certain point, and we are at that point in TV, the number of people watching on linear television is so low that even with record low numbers, most of these sports are fine. That’s why NASCAR is not going to have any trouble, seemingly anyway, getting a new deal that is more lucrative than its’ current one.

Jon Lewis

Now, the TV deal will happen, but it may look different than originally expected. Lewis said that, following previous conversations with the people at NASCAR he did not expect any races to be exclusively streamed on Peacock anytime soon. However, he also said that predated the reports coming about about NASCAR talking with Amazon about streaming races, so, could that change?

Lewis did have some interesting ideas for how the media companies who cover NASCAR could try to help the sport in terms of viewership or ratings all of which had to do with the schedule. One of the things he suggested is that NASCAR and their TV partners could schedule races off the back of other big events.

He cites how Fox will often schedule a World Series game right after their NFL window, which does well in ratings. He also notes how the top NBC-viewed Daytona 500, 2006, came off the back of the Winter Olympics.

Some fans have suggested this as well, and some even suggested putting the reintroduction of the Brickyard 400 the week after the Olympic break on the 2024 calendar. Maybe there is something to this.

Overall, TV ratings are very complicated, and many things factor into how they are garnered and what they mean. Could NASCAR TV ratings take an upswing in the near future?

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