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Here’s what we know:

  • Ratings are up across the board. MLB, NFL, college football — everything is up.
  • Attendance is down. Especially in MLB and the NFL.
  • Fragmenting trends continue. More people are watching videos online, on their phones, etc.

And here’s Mark Cuban’s thought on this: “You cant stop people from recording shows on their DVRs, and you shouldnt try. But you should try to give them as many reasons as possible to take advantage of the increased entertainment value of participating  with others. High participation  equals high viewership. That is exactly what record ratings for sports are telling us.”

He could be right; social media has added something to the sports experience for me. But most of this is happening on Twitter, and most people still only use Facebook, if anything.

There’s also a thought that more people are watching on TV because they’re not going out as much. Okay, I could buy that — except that ratings were generally down or flat last year, when the economy was even worse.

So if I had to put a guess out there, it’s this: people are time-shifting a much higher percentage of their TV watching. DVR, Hulu, torrents, iTunes — there are so many alternative ways to watch scripted television that there’s no point in basing your schedule around your favorite shows.

Except sports, of course, which will always be time sensitive. So all of a sudden, sports games are the only shows that people need to base their schedules around. Time-shifting other shows has lifted some of that burden — if before you were going to choose between going out Thursday and missing the Office or going out Saturday and missing the football game, you’re now always going to choose the game, since you can watch the Office whenever you want.

This goes along with what Cuban said: sports are events, and there’s a lot of value in watching live. And he’s right that networks should try to build that same kind of value around scripted shows. But that’s an uphill climb.

Also note that this should still only be a temporary bump. Ratings are always going to go down in the long run, as media consumption becomes more fragmented. Still, no sports exec is going to complain right now.

Feedback? Write a comment, or e-mail the author at shawn(AT)squawkingbaseball.com

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