Judging from all the people who say they haven't watched ESPN's Baseball Tonight since the MLB Network launched in 2009, you'd think baseball's young network might qualify as a runaway success.
In reality, the false sense of success those testimonies give off appear to be just a product of the baseball bubble we reside in. April 2010 was the first month of MLB Network's ratings being tracked by Nielsen and the totals were far from overwhelming. Despite being launched in a record 50 million homes, the channel is averaging less than 100,000 viewers for its primetime programming.
Hello? Is this thing on?
"The network's prime-time and total day viewership place MLB Network behind other single-sport channels like Speed, Golf Channel and NFL Network. Of the Nielsen-rated sports channels, only Fox Soccer Channel averaged fewer viewers in prime time and single day in April. Some single-sport networks like NBA TV, NHL Network and Tennis Channel are not rated, primarily because they don't have enough distribution.
"MLB Network executives say they are not surprised by the early ratings, which they say are in line with internal expectations and are showing an increase from last year, when the channel was not rated officially."
There are a number of reasons to believe that MLB Network isn't totally just putting some spin on those bad numbers. The season is still young, the NBA and NHL playoffs are in full swing and most baseball fans are watching their team's own telecasts during primetime, not MLB Network's original programming. They can measure success in other ways, like buzz among us hardcores, the sports Emmys they just won and a praised stable of analysts.
At the same time, less than 100,000 viewers out of 50 million homes isn't good when you consider that channels focusing on race cars and golf are outpacing you.
I think that speaks to a general lack of promotion and awareness of MLB Network's existence among the general population. That needs to change and I expect we'll see another promotional push across baseball's various platforms very soon.