Forbes magazine recently pointed out the heavy toll that cable television channels, the Internet, and DVRs have taken on the primary American TV networks: “There has been a 50% collapse in broadcast TV audience ratings since 2002; programs that once easily pulled 15 to 25 million viewers now see 12 million or fewer.”
Whereas network television has been losing viewers in the 21st century, the Triple Crown telecasts have generally held steady. Over the past decade, the average audience size for the Kentucky Derby was14.7 million viewers. The largest number of people watched in 2009 (16.1 million), 2010 (16.5 million) and 2013 (16.2 million). The 2010 Derby attracted the most viewers since the Sunday Silence/Easy Goer race in 1989.
Since 2004, the Preakness has averaged 9.32 million viewers, approaching the 9.7 million who watched Oxbow win the 2013 race. The biggest TV audiences came in years when a particular colt or filly caught the public’s fancy: Smarty Jones in 2004 (11.6 million viewers), Barbaro in 2006 (10.1 million), and Rachel Alexandra in 2009 (10.9 million).
The popularity of the Belmont on television predictably has depended on the prospects for a Triple Crown winner. Hence in the past 10 years, the largest audiences were in 2004 (21.9 million) and 2008 (13.1 million). The average viewership since 2004 for the race portion of the telecast was 8.54 million.
Aggressive promotion by NBC and its affiliates in the weeks leading up to the races, particularly the Kentucky Derby, has been a boon. NBC’s Kentucky Derby telecasts from 2001-2013 averaged 2.3 million more viewers than the ABC telecasts over the preceding 12 years.
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