This April Jim Rome made a much ballyhooed debut on the CBS Sports Network.
Rome’s departure from ESPN represented a coup for the nascent network, recently rebranded from College Sports Television (CSTV) and expanding into original programming. Rome, airing daily at 6 eastern, would be a linchpin around which CBS could mount an attack on ESPN’s sporting hegemony. By taking one of ESPN’s top TV talents, the theory went, ESPN would be weakened and CBS strengthened. Rome’s loyal audience of clones would follow him to CBS, those who didn’t have the network would demand its inclusion in their cable packages, and CBS would flourish.
That was the theory anyway.
But the first three months of “Rome” have been filled with ratings pratfalls and very limited distribution growth. In particular Rome’s CBS audience is not even 1/10th of his ESPN audience.
In 2011 Rome Is Burning averaged 442,000 daily viewers on ESPN and ESPN2. According to multiple sources, Rome on CBS is averaging barely 40,000 daily viewers. That’s a smaller audience than the local news in Buffalo.
Asked for comment on ratings or viewers for the Rome show, CBS issued this statement: “There are no numbers available for ROME as CBS Sports Network is not rated by Nielsen.”
It’s never a good sign when the official network response is there are no numbers available.
Rome’s ratings and viewers were definitely going to decline given that the CBS Sports Network is in far fewer homes than ESPN, but the decline is still astounding, a bold-faced numerical reflection of the challenges that talent will face if it leaves ESPN.
In the past year ESPN has lost Rome to CBS and Michelle Beadle, who recently signed with NBC Sports. ESPN won the battle to retain Scott Van Pelt and Erin Andrews’s contract is up shortly — with most expecting for her to remain at ESPN. But looking at Rome’s ratings numbers three months into his tenure at CBS it’s interesting to ask this question — is ESPN right, does it make the stars rather than vice versa?
If so, salaries for sports media may increase, but viewers will certainly decline.
After all, 90% of Rome’s viewers stuck with ESPN rather than follow him to CBS.
So is it worth it to take more money to have your product consumed by a drastically smaller audience? And in the media’s rush to find challengers for ESPN have we completely underrated how long and difficult that task is going to be? Especially, as is the case with CBS, when there is virtually no content to challenge ESPN’s position at the top of the sports mountain.
Indeed, in Rome’s defense, CBS isn’t exactly surrounding his show with must-see television. Today, this was CBS’s 24 hour line-up: the “Tim Brando Show” — a radio show simulcast on television from 9-12 live and then, unbelievably, re-aired radio from 12-3 central time for an audience consisting of Tim Brando and his family dog. What was Rome’s lead-in? A two-hour semifinal from the A-10 women’s basketball tournament that originally aired in March. I graduated from an A-10 school so I feel very comfortable in saying no one even watched this game live. Guesses on how many people are watching this replay three months later? 150? 200? Even the players in this game aren’t watching. Rolling in off the massive lead-in from the A-10 women’s semifinal, Rome then airs from 5-6 central, back-to-back as the lead-in for the women’s collegiate sand championship, then the Lemming Report, an hour long college recruiting show that has probably already aired a hundred times, followed by bull riding, offroad racing, and more Rome. In fact, Rome airs from 10-11 ct and then all night from 1-5 in the morning on constant repeat.
This is not a programming schedule that inspires confidence.
What’s more, this is not a programming schedule that leads to sports fans demanding the network be carried by their cable or satellite provider. (In my case Comcast charges me extra and carries several stations, including the NFL Network and CBS Sports Network, in an additional sports tier. I buy this package for the NFL and NBA Networks. Otherwise, like most of y’all, I would not have the CBS Sports Network at all).
Yes, his numbers are down, but the most amazing reflection of the decline in Rome’s viewers is the absence of any commentary at all about “Rome” on CBS. Indeed, the day after the show’s debut, Deadspin ran this headline: “Did anyone watch Jim Rome’s new TV show yesterday?”
It included, this paragraph: “While the standard press release-formatted preview article appeared in various national newspapers yesterday, we can’t seem to find any reviews of the show today—even in the depths of the blogosphere. (We swear we meant to watch, but forgot/opted to eat dinner instead.) There’s a brief clip of the show up on CBS Sports Network’s site, and it doesn’t look promising. If anything, it’s just a slightly prettier version of his ESPN program.”
Three months later there is still no talk about Rome’s show online. And still very few viewers. But don’t tell the CBS Sports Network, which is building a hagiography to Rome. Witness their Google News tagline for a recent video, the sixth link on this page, posted by the network: “Jim Rome is perhaps the most respected voice in the world of sports broadcasting, Jim Rome is one of the leading opinion-makers of his generation.”
Maybe a bit of an exaggeration there?
When it’s not building false idols, CBS can’t be blamed for going after ESPN — neither can NBC — but numbers like these raise an interesting question — has Jim Rome reached the point where his still popular radio show with a much larger national audience gets preferential treatment when it comes to booking guests? Why wouldn’t it? You should put your best content in front of the most people, right? It’s probably no coincidence that Rome’s argument with David Stern happened on the radio and not on his television show. But at what point do the weak television numbers hurt Rome’s radio property? After all, the ESPN show provided a heavy dose of advertising for his radio show and vice versa. The CBS show? Not so much.
At least in the case of Rome’s TV show ESPN has been proven correct, providing a cautionary tale to other media exploring their television options: Where you are is more important than who you are.
Thank God Rome has never gone after other shows for their lousy ratings.
Oh, wait, he has?
Maybe if Terrell Owens wasn’t bankrupt he could fire back now.
T.O’s show might not have been able to beat the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” in re-runs but at least it was on a network big enough to be measured by Nielsen.