Ratings Roundup: NFL Wild Card Weekend Tops 29 Million Viewers; CFB Playoff Semis Set Cable Records on ESPN

Last weekend’s four NFL Wild Card games averaged 29.9 million viewers, marking the sixth consecutive season that Wild Card Weekend has averaged more than 29 million viewers.

NFL Wild Card Weekend Draws in the Masses
Sunday’s Detroit Lions-Dallas Cowboys matchup on FOX was the most-watched game of Wild Card Weekend, posting a 23/6 rating and averaging 42.3 million viewers to rank as the most-watched telecast since the Academy Awards (43.6 million, ABC, 3/2/14) and the third most-watched Wild Card game on record (49ers-Packers on FOX, 47.1 million, 1/5/14; Steelers-Broncos on CBS, 42.4 million, 1/8/12). The game also performed exceptionally well in the respective home markets, registering a 43.6 in Dallas and a 43.9 in Detroit – the highest-ever rating for an NFL playoff game in the Motor City. The broadcast streamed live on FOX Sports GO led to the largest day for total NFL consumption in the platform’s history behind only Super Bowl XLVIII.

Sunday’s Cincinnati Bengals-Indianapolis Colts game on CBS was the second-most watched Wild Card game of the weekend, drawing 28.3 million average viewers. That is down 8% from Chargers/Bengals last year (30.9M) and down 4% from Ravens/Colts in 2012 (29.6M).

As for the Saturday Wild Card games, the Arizona Cardinals-Carolina Panthers matchup on ESPN (the networks first ever) – averaged a 12.5 household US rating and drew 21.7 million average viewers to rank as the network’s third highest-rated NFL game ever. It is also the eighth most-viewed telecast among viewers (see chart below), and ninth highest-rated, in cable television history. The rating peaked from 5:45-6 p.m. ET with a 13.9 rating and at 24,300,000 viewers from 7-7:15 p.m. The only NFL games on ESPN to rate higher were Monday Night Football contests – Minnesota-Green Bay (13.2 household rating, 10/5/09) and New Orleans-New England (12.9 rating, 11/30/09). In Phoenix, the game delivered a a combined 28.9 rating on ESPN (21.6) and KASW-CW (7.3), while Charlotte delivered a 36.6 combined rating (20.4 rating on ESPN and a 16.3 on WJZY-FOX). While the numbers were sky-high for a cable telecast, the game was down 22% in ratings and 21% in viewership from Chiefs-Colts on NBC last year (16.0, 27.6 million)

That evening, the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game on NBC averaged a 15.8 final rating and 28.0 million viewers to rank as the second most-watched Saturday AFC Wild Card game in the past 20 seasons (Jets-Colts drew 33.3 million in 2011). That said, the primetime game was down 17% in ratings and 19% in viewership from Saints-Eagles last year (19.1, 34.4M) and ranks as the lowest rated late Saturday Wild Card game since Jaguars/Steelers in 2008 (15.0) and the least-watched since Colts/Chargers in 2009 (27.8M)…

ESPN’s College Football Playoffs Jump Out of Gate
The two games of the inaugural College Football Playoff Semifinals on ESPN on New Years Day delivered the largest two audiences in cable television history.The Rose Bowl Game (Oregon defeated Florida State 59-20) averaged 28,164,000 viewers (P2+) and a 14.8 rating. That night, the Allstate Sugar Bowl (Ohio State 42-35 over top-seeded Alabama) averaged 28,271,000 viewers and a 15.2 rating.

Both games generated significant increases over the ESPN bowl games in the respective January 1 time slots a year ago: a 51 percent increase in viewership for the Rose Bowl Game (vs. 18,636,000) and 150 percent increase for the Sugar Bowl (vs. 11,304,000).  The ratings rose 45 percent (from 10.2) and 130 percent (from 6.6), respectively.

In its debut, the College Football Playoff semifinal games live on WatchESPN logged an average of 864,000 unique viewers, 42.4 million minutes viewed and an average minute audience of 187,000 per game – up 185 percent, 124 percent and 119 percent, respectively, compared to the last year’s games in the time slots. The Sugar Bowl now stands as the best college football game ever on WatchESPN based on unique viewers (912,000, up 164% from last year) and minutes viewed (58.7 million, up 173% from last year). Despite technical issues during the first half of Oregon-Florida State, WatchESPN recorded its best Rose Bowl ever based on unique viewers (816,000, up 212 percent) and second best ever in minutes viewed (26.2 million, up 59 percent) and average minute audience (116,000, up 47 percent).

As for ESPN’s New Year’s Six as a whole (three on New Year’s Eve and three on New Year’s Day that are part of the new College Football Playoff), the games posted an increase of 78 percent in viewership compared to the same six time slots last year.  The six averaged 14,682,000 viewers, up from 8,267,000.  In addition to the two semifinals, New Year’s Day’s Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (12:30 p.m.) on ESPN increased viewership for the time slot 67 percent, from 5,435,000 to 9,086,000.  The rating rose 63 percent, from 3.2 to 5.2.

The average New Year’s Six game live on WatchESPN attracted 505,000 unique viewers, 26.2 million minutes viewed and an average minute audience of 118,000 – up 229 percent, 214 percent and 198 percent, respectively, compared to the same dates last year.  Compared to the four non-championship BCS games last year, the average New Year’s Six game was up 85 percent in unique viewers, 55 percent in minutes viewed and 57 percent in average minute audience.

The average New Year’s Six game live on WatchESPN attracted 505,000 unique viewers, 26.2 million minutes viewed and an average minute audience of 118,000 – up 229 percent, 214 percent and 198 percent, respectively, compared to the same dates last year.  Compared to the four non-championship BCS games last year, the average New Year’s Six game was up 85 percent in unique viewers, 55 percent in minutes viewed and 57 percent in average minute audience.

The playoff also delivered big numbers up north as TSN averaged 702,000 viewers for the Rose Bowl, making it the most-watched college football game ever on Canadian television. The Sugar Bowl, meanwhile, attracted an average audience of 534,000 viewers. Overall, more than 3.8 million unique Canadian viewers tuned in to watch the semifinals on TSN. Audiences for the record-setting Rose Bowl peaked at 1.1 million viewers late in the third quarter.

Winter Classic Hits Record Low
The NHL Winter Classic between the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals on New Year Day posted a 2.3 overnight rating according to NBC Sports – last among the seven Winter Classics, but up 77% vs 2013-14 reg season avg on NBC (1.3). The NBC Sports Live Extra streaming product delivered 60.5k uniques for NHL Winter Classic, up 17% vs last year. The top NHL Winter Classic markets were Chicago with 11.4 HH rating, Buffalo with 6.4, and Washington, DC with 5.7.

NBA Stuffs Ratings Stockings for ABC/ESPN, TNT
ABC’s Christmas Day NBA doubleheader – Cleveland Cavaliers at Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs – averaged 7,686,000 viewers (P2+) and a 4.1 U.S. household rating, up 16 percent and 14 percent, respectively, from 2013.

The Cavs-Heat game drew more than nine million viewers (P2+) and a 19 percent viewership increase for LeBron James’ return to Miami. An average audience of 9,299,000 viewers (P2+) tuned-in to watch the Miami Heat defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers in LeBron James’ return to Miami. The audience was up 19 percent versus last year. The broadcast delivered a 4.7 U.S. household rating, up 12 percent versus last year.

Nearly six million viewers (5,994,000) watched the Oklahoma City Thunder defeat the San Antonio Spurs on Christmas Day. The audience was up 10 percent compared to the comparable game in 2013. The Thunder-Spurs broadcast generated a 3.3 U.S. household rating, also up 10 percent from last year.

The opening Christmas Day game – Washington Wizards at the New York Knicks on ESPN – drew more than three million viewers (3,046,000) The viewership was up nine percent compared to last year. The Wizards-Knicks telecast delivered a 1.8 U.S rating, up 13 percent versus the comparable game in 2013.

That night, TNT’s NBA Christmas Day doubleheader – Los Angeles Lakers vs. Chicago Bulls at 8 p.m. ET; Golden State Warriors vs. L.A. Clippers at 10:30 p.m. – averaged 3.5 million total viewers to become the most-viewed primetime doubleheader on Christmas in cable television history.  The telecasts propelled TNT to win the night across all of cable television based on metered market delivery. The doubleheader is up 94% over 2008, the last time TNT aired a primetime doubleheader on Christmas Day (1.8 million total viewers).  This year’s Christmas Day doubleheader also generated significant audience growth across all key demos including a 92% increase in People and Men 18-34, as well as a 74% improvement in People 18-49.

Lakers-Bulls averaged a 2.0 U.S. HH rating and 3.9 million total viewers to rank as the highest-rated and most-viewed primetime game ever to be televised on Christmas.  The telecast peaked with 4.2 million total viewers from 10-10:30 p.m. Locally, the Lakers/Bulls telecast generated a 9.1 HH rating in Chicago and a 5.0 HH rating in Los Angeles.

In the nightcap, the Warriors against the Clippers averaged 3,076,000 total viewers and a 1.7 U.S. HH rating, up 96% and 70% respectively over the comparable Christmas Day telecast on TNT in 2008.  The Warriors/Clippers game peaked with 4.1 million total viewers from 10:45-11:15 p.m. The Warriors/Clippers game posted a 5.3 HH rating in the Bay Area and a 4.2 HH rating in L.A.

World Juniors Captivate Canada on TSN
Team Canada’s World Juniors gold medal win on over Russia on home ice posted an audience of 7.1 million Canadians – TSN (6 million) and RDS (1.13 million) – making it the most-watched broadcast on record on specialty television in Canada. Last night’s game ranks as the most-watched World Juniors game ever – 6% higher than the 2011 Gold Medal Game (6.7 million viewers on TSN and RDS). Overall, 13.4 million unique Canadian viewers tuned in to watch Team Canada reclaim World Junior gold.  Audience levels on TSN and RDS peaked at 9.7 million viewers at 10:31 p.m. ET in the game’s dying seconds as Canada held on for the victory.

TSN’s average earned the second most-watched program ever on English specialty television (behind the 2011 World Juniors Gold Medal Game – 6.1 million), and the most-watched telecast on English television since the Academy Awards. RDS registered its highest audience ever for a World Juniors game with 1.13 million viewers.

Overall, 19.4 million Canadians – or more than half the country’s population – tuned in to watch some or all of TSN and RDS’s wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 IIHF WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP in Montréal and Toronto – a 14% increase compared to the last time it was played in Canada. Collectively, Canadians consumed 105 million hours of the World Juniors on TSN and RDS over 27 games in an 11 day period – three hours of viewing for every person in Canada. Every one of Team Canada’s 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship games ranked as the most-watched program of the day on Canadian television in all key demographics – elevating TSN to the #1 network in Canada on all seven days that Team Canada played, ahead of all conventional networks. The average audience for the seven Canada games was 3.8 million, a new all-time high.

Team Canada’s semifinal victory over Slovakia on Sunday was the second most-watched game from the tournament, attracting an average audience of 4.5 million viewers on TSN (3.9 million) and RDS (617,000). Russia’s semifinal victory over Sweden on Sunday was the most watched non- Canadian World Juniors semifinal game ever, with an average audience of 1.46 million viewers on TSN and RDS

TSN Digital platforms garnered more than 16 million pageviews, 1.9 million video views throughout the tournament. TSN GO recorded 427,000 streams during the tournament, an increase of more than three times its normal engagement. In addition, TSN.ca recorded 27,000 unique views for its multi-cam view of games from the tournament. TSN.ca generated 1.8 million pageviews on Jan. 5 alone, a 65% increase compared to the last time Canada won a medal game (2012). The @TSNHockey Twitter account delivered more than 20 million organic impressions against World Junior related content between Dec. 26 and Jan. 5, including exclusive in-game video content of the biggest moments of the tournament, live tweets of all World Juniors games, and breaking news and information. RDS Digital platforms recorded 1.6 million pageviews throughout the tournament. World Juniors posts garnered more than 80,000 interactions on the RDS Facebook page. Twitter recorded more than 1 million tweets related to this year’s World Juniors, including a peak of 3,034 tweets per minute when Canada claimed the gold medal.

Golf Channel Still on a Roll for NBC
Since joining NBC Sports Group in 2011, Golf Channel has scored its four best years ever and has increased ratings +57% and total-day average viewership +40% over that span. In 2014, Golf Channel matched its highest-rated year (.11 HH Cvg Rtg, 24-hour Total Day 6AM-6AM), and posted its second most-watched year (98,000 average viewers, 24-hour Total Day 6AM-6AM), surpassed only by 2013. Additionally in 2014, Golf Channel was the No. 1 most-affluent ad-supported television network in both total day and primetime, with both the highest median income and percentage of audience earning more than $100k, according to data released by The Nielsen Company.

In 2014, NBC Sports Group reached an unmatched 79 million viewers via Golf Channel on NBC broadcasts and Golf Channel, which provided more live tournament golf coverage than all other U.S. television networks combined and garnered the most Sports Emmy nominations in network history. Additionally, more than 54 million golf fans visited Golf Channel Digital platforms.