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NASCAR Trades Broadcast for Streaming: How Will It Affect TV Ratings?

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What’s Happening?

NASCAR will only be on free-to-air, network TV 9 times per year starting in 2025, a sharp downturn from 21 times per year under the current TV deal. NASCAR made the change in favor of expanding its presence on streaming services and cable networks. How will this change affect NASCAR’s TV ratings?

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TV Viewership on Cable vs Network TV

It’s no secret that races on network TV get better TV viewership. That was reflected in NASCAR’s 2023 TV viewership when comparing network TV and cable TV viewership.

  • Network: 3.261 Viewers Per Race
  • Cable: 2.02 Million Viewers Per Race

NASCAR has upped its cable TV presence from 17 races per year to 24 races per year in 2024. Now, 5 of those races will be streaming on Bleacher Report Sports, and a couple may be streamed on Peacock. Still, that means NASCAR fans will need a cable subscription to watch at least the same amount of races if not more races.

Cable subscriptions are also going down by the year. According to nscreenmedia.com, only 46.8% of homes in the U.S. have a cable TV subscription as of the end of Q2 in 2023. That is down 8.1% from the same time in 2022. NASCAR is putting the bulk of its season on a medium that is losing subscribers rapidly. That average viewership could continue to decline as the years go on as a result. However, does streaming counteract that?

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Viewership on Streaming Services

NASCAR is increasing its presence on streaming services with the next TV deal. Amazon Prime will exclusively stream 5 races and 16 practice and qualifying sessions starting in 2025. Max’s Bleacher Report Sports Add-On will simulcast the TNT broadcast of 5 races along with Max simulcasting TruTV’s coverage of 19 practice and qualifying sessions.

That means that, including network TV broadcasts, fans do not need a cable subscription for at least 19 races. While that is down from the current 21 races, Peacock had exclusive streaming rights to 3 Cup Series races in 2023, and that number may go up. If NBC eventually moves all streamed races to Peacock, that means fans theoretically only need a cable subscription for races on Fox Sports 1.

Regardless, in the meantime, moving races to streaming may mean a viewership hit, but, it also puts NASCAR in front of more people. Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, claimed that Amazon Prime had 200 million subscribers in 2021, which is more than twice as many subscribers as cable. According to Jennifer Maas of Variety, Max and HBO combined for 95.8 million subscribers, which is more than cable. Bleacher Report Sports requires a Max subscription.

Amazon Prime has brought in significant viewership as well. According to the Associated Press, Amazon Prime brought in a record 15.3 million average viewers for Thursday Night Football’s opening game in September. However, streaming still generally lags behind regular TV. For example, NBC did not even release viewership numbers of a Peacock exclusive college football game between Penn State and Deleware earlier this year.

On top of that, Amazon Prime’s big win with Thursday Night Football has a caveat. Every NFL game on cable or streaming is carried by a local network affiliate in each team’s local market, which, likely drives up TV viewership. It’s tough to predict exactly what viewership will look like for now, but, NASCAR will likely take a hit in the beginning. However, this is not about 2025, it is about down the line.

The Future

NASCAR is willing to take a small ratings hit now to better prepare themselves for the future. The world is turning away from cable and turning towards streaming. However, cable is not totally dead yet, so, NASCAR and its media partners need to keep the sport there in some capacity.

However, streaming is where the younger audience tends. togo. According to Ofcom via The Guardian, 90% of viewers 18-24 years old prefer streaming to broadcast TV. While NASCAR has an older fanbase, if they want to bring in younger fans, they need to put their product on the platforms younger viewers are watching.

The media world will look very different at the beginning of the next decade when NASCAR looks for its’ next media rights deal. This deal is meant to prepare NASCAR for that world, even if that means a ratings hit in the meantime.

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