In the end, though, it may be for the best. Sports and specials really are separate realms compared to series programming, realms that are often much more conducive to live viewing than a scripted series and thus should be judged differently.
Throw in every single sports telecast and every single special telecast and here's how they stack up compared to the original series "league average":
|Year||Sports A18-49+||Specials A18-49+|
Every single year of the last five, sports have gotten stronger relative to series (though just barely this year). But the specials are a little less conclusive.
The best things we can track here are the "regular" primetime sports; in other words, dilute the impact of a matchup by including a large combination of games. There are only two of those:
|Year||Sunday Night Football||Saturday Night Football|
A big part of why the sports A18-49+ is up so steeply for sports is because of NBC's Sunday Night Football, which has nearly doubled in strength relative to series over the last half decade. In its first year on NBC, it was a big hit along the lines of CSI (185) or Heroes (165) or Lost (162). Now, it's well beyond what I'd consider a megahit, about 50% ahead of American Idol and likely stronger in the relative landscape than Idol was even at its height.
I thought that using championship series might not be that helpful since they're so dependent on matchups and series length. But when I lined them up, the results here were pretty obvious too:
|Year||Super Bowl||NBA Finals||World Series||BCS Championship||NCAA BB Championship|
*- The BCS moved to cable starting in 2011
**- Just the Games 1-2 average
While the results are not totally predictable for every sport in every single year, the overall trajectory is pretty clear and consistent; they're all getting much stronger relative to entertainment series from a Live + SD standpoint. I'm writing this not to examine which individual sports are doing better than others (that's coming next week!), just to illustrate that sports are clearly operating on a completely different playing field. The 5-10% yearly declines for series are not at all indicative of any sports and shouldn't be the standard. And even if there were some sport declining by 5-10% every year (I'm sure there's one somewhere), that's more on that sport itself than on DVRs or second screens or any of that stuff. For the most part, sports are, at the very least, much less affected.
It struck me after doing my investigation here that perhaps I ought to start denoting two separate types of specials. There's one type that's more sports-esque and one type that's more series-esque or perhaps even more rerun-esque.
The Sports-esque Specials: Awards Shows
Though the awards shows are for the most part down in raw numbers across the last five years (with the Grammys a notable exception), they are all declining at a slower rate than series in general:
|Year||Oscar||Grammys||CMA Awards||Golden Globes||People's Choice|
The Series-esque Specials: Holiday Specials
Then there are those classic holiday specials that the networks keep trotting out each year. Many of them are still able to capture something of an event feel and certainly do better than virtually any repeats would, but... they're also (mostly) declining at about the rate of original series. Sometimes a little more (Peanuts specials), sometimes a little less (Rudolph).
|Year||Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown||A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving||A Charlie Brown Christmas||Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer||Grinch|
*- Got a 6.8 demo thanks to a massive lead-in from original Shrek the Halls (7.1)
The Separate Standards
All of this basically means that it seems fine to judge sports and awards shows "normally" or close to it. In other words, if a sport/award show drops by a small amount, it really is because of a loss of interest and not because of some larger macro reason. A 5% drop in Live+SD ratings for a scripted series is usually a pretty good season. With a sport/awards show, a 5% drop is... at least for now, pretty much just a genuine 5% drop. Not too thrilling, but it's nice to know!