The early returns for Craig Carton’s ratings on FS1 have not been good.

There are some caveats for the show, which debuted last Tuesday, to have such a notable decrease. The average viewership for the first five shows, as measured by Nielsen, was 17,400. Last year, “First Things First” averaged 76,400 viewers in the week of five shows that began the Tuesday after Labor Day and concluded on the Monday after the first weekend of the NFL.

This represents a decline of about 77 percent.

However, “First Things First” aired from 7:30-9:30 a.m. whereas “The Carton Show” airs from 7-9:30 a.m.. This early half hour presumably drags down Carton’s average viewership. At that time, less of the country is awake; it’s 4 a.m. on the West Coast. Secondly, sports talk shows have a given amount of die-hard viewers who DVR shows. That takes years to build up, and Carton is starting from scratch.

Through one week of shows, "The Carton Show" with Craig Carton has viewership that is down 77 percent from FS1's programming in the time slot last year.
Through one week of shows, “The Carton Show” with Craig Carton has viewership that is down 77 percent from FS1’s programming in the time slot last year.
Carton Show

One week is too soon to write off this television experiment as a disaster. Carton has also proven in both morning and afternoon drive on WFAN that he can adapt to listener preferences and drive radio ratings. His TV show has high energy, and a few funny clips have gone viral. Visually, the show and studio look crisp. Monday’s show averaged 25,000 viewers, compared to 14,000 for the debut last week. A rise was to be expected given the start of the NFL, but it’s still some positive momentum.

Nonetheless, the initial numbers have to be considered lower than anybody plausibly expected.

Another problem about the ratings is that they appear to have negatively affected the next several hours of FS1’s lineup. TV viewership does not exist in a vacuum, and shows can be boosted or hurt by the popularity of their lead-ins.

Last year, in the relevant week of shows, “Undisputed” with Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe averaged 202,800 viewers. This year, it averaged 146,400. This is a decline of about 28 percent.

“The Herd” with Colin Cowherd — which switched co-hosts from Joy Taylor to Jason McIntyre for this Fall — has held up a bit better than “Undisputed.” In last year’s one-week sample, “The Herd” averaged 169,000 viewers; this year’s average was 140,800. This is a decline of about 17 percent.

Put another way, last year “Undisputed” was beating “The Herd” by nearly 34,000 viewers per day from the day after Labor Day through the first NFL Monday. This year, the gap has been cut to fewer than 6,000.

“Undisputed” ratings have been hurt by the lower lead-in.

Elsewhere in the lineup, “Speak for Yourself” with Marcellus Wiley and Emmanuel Acho last year averaged 97,400 viewers in the one-week sample from 3-5 p.m.. This year, “First Things First” with Nick Wright, Kevin Wildes and Chris Broussard airs from 3-4:30 p.m. and averaged 89,000 viewers for the week. “Speak” with Joy Taylor, Acho and LeSean McCoy averaged 78,400 viewers from 4:30-6 p.m.


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Tyler Cowan