Ratings Roundup: NFL Regular Season Up on Three of Four Networks, New Year’s 6 Bowls Plummet on ESPN

NFL continues to rule TV ratings, ESPN's Bowls Struggle on New Year's Eve, and ESPN sees big NBA ratings through the New Year

The NFL regular season is in the books and the league once again delivered in spades when it came to the ratings game, as three of the four NFL-rights-holding networks saw year-to-year ratings gains. Fox had its second-best season since acquiring NFL rights in 1994, averaging 20.75 million viewers per game (behind only the 2013 season), while CBS notched the highest number of average viewers for the regular-season for the AFC television package in 29 years (19.1 million viewers). On the primetime side, NBC’s Sunday Night Football had its most-watched season ever with an average of 22.5 million viewers per game and CBS’s Thursday Night Football improved to 17.6 million viewers (passing “NCIS” as the No. 2 show overall in primetime). (Media Life). Here is a breakdown of each network’s NFL regular season ratings.

The NFL on Fox
America’s Game of the Week on Fox ranks as television’s No. 1 show for the seventh straight season, posting its second most-watched ever and having FOX NFL SUNDAY, America’s top NFL pregame show for 22 consecutive seasons, record its best rating since 2004. The NFL on FOX averaged a 12.0/25 household rating/share, with 20.745 million viewers across all games, second to only its record-setting 2013 (21.2 million) as the most-watched season since broadcasting NFL games in 1994. The 2015 NFL on FOX average audience of 20.745 million is an eye-opening +32% better than the FOX average 10 years ago (15.7 million). ·        FOX’s most-watched NFL seasons have come in the last seven years (2013 – 21.2 million; 2015 – 20.745; 2014 – 20.728; 2010 – 20.111 million; 2011 – 20.096 million; 2012 – 19.7 million; and 2009 – 19.1).

NFL_on_FoxAmerica’s Game of the Week capped the season by averaging an impressive 15.4/29, with 26.8 million viewers, continuing its run as the highest-rated and most-watched show in all of television for the seventh consecutive year (projected), according to Nielsen.

On the pregame front, FOX NFL SUNDAY continued to reign supreme, ranking No. 1 among all NFL pregame shows (projected) for the 22nd consecutive year, posting a 3.5/9 household rating/share, with 5.3 million viewers, matching its highest rating since 2004 (3.5 in 2010), and posting its most-watched season since 2010. Year-to-year, the show’s rating increased +9% (3.5 vs. 3.2), and +8% in audience (5.3 million vs. 4.9). FOX NFL SUNDAY is projected to out-rate The NFL Today  by +40%, the biggest gap between the two Sunday afternoon pregame shows since 2004.

The broadcast television debut of FOX NFL KICKOFF (previously on FS1), which aired prior to FOX NFL SUNDAY at 11:00 AM ET on most FOX broadcast network stations and affiliates, posted 1.2 million viewers, +127% over its cable performance in 2014. FOX NFL KICKOFF also provided FOX NFL SUNDAY a better lead-in as its audience showed a +17% year-over-year gain from 12:00 to 12:30 PM ET, and a +9% increase in viewership over 2014 for the full hour (4.9 million viewers).

The NFL on CBS
For the 2015 NFL regular-season, The NFL On CBS averaged 19.1 million viewers (Persons 2+), a +2% increase over last year’s 18.7 million viewers.  This year’s 19.1 million viewers is the highest number of average viewers for the regular-season for the AFC television package in 29 years. (As far back as CBS records go; 1987).

For the 2015 NFL regular-season, The NFL On CBS has earned an average preliminary national household rating/share of 11.1/23, up +1% from last year’s 11.0/23.  This year’s 11.1/23 ties  as the highest average rating for the AFC television package in 21 years.

CBS Sports’ pre-game studio show, The NFL Today , averaged 4.0 million viewers, +5% vs. 3.8 million in 2014 and is the highest viewer average for The NFL Today  (Sunday and Thanksgiving) regular season average in 18 years since CBS re-acquired the NFL in 1998.

Thursday Night Football on CBS
For the 16 games of the 2015 schedule, Thursday Night Football on CBS and NFL Network (and over-the air stations) averaged 13.0 million viewers, +6% compared to last year’s 12.3 million; and a national household rating/share of 7.93/14, +5% compared to last year’s 7.57/13 in 2014 on CBS/NFL Network and over-the-air stations making it the most-watched and highest-rated Thursday Night Football season ever.

All eight Thursday Night Football games on CBS/NFL Network during Weeks 2-8, & 14 resulted in the No. 1-rated and most-watched program on television in primetime for that night across all networks. In addition, the simulcast on NFL Network was the No. 1-rated and most-watched program on cable television for Weeks 2, 3 & 4.

All six Thursday Night Football primetime games on NFL Network and over-the-air stations (Weeks 9-16) were the highest-rated and most-watched program on cable television for each of the Thursday nights they aired.

NBC Sunday Night Football
NBC’s 10th season of Sunday Night Football ranked as NBC’s most-watched and highest-rated SNF season ever, and is on pace to rank as primetime television’s #1 show for the fifth consecutive year, based on Nielsen live plus same day data. NBC’s Sunday Night Football averaged 22.5 million viewers in 2015 – the best viewership ever for SNF on NBC, and tops for the NFL’s premier primetime package in 19 years (22.7 million for ABC’s MNF in 1996).

SNF viewership increased 6% from last season (21.3 million viewers), and outpaced its nearest primetime competitor by 28% in the fall (Thursday Night Football with 17.6 million). SNF averaged a record 13.0/22 household rating, matching the 2010 SNF season as the best for the NFL’s premier primetime package in 16 years (13.7/23 for ABC’s MNF in 1999). The season rating for SNF increased 4% from 2014 (12.5/21), and topped the second-ranked primetime show by 19% (Thursday Night Football with 10.9). Only 15 primetime telecasts between Sept. 7, 2015 and Jan. 3, 2016 averaged at least 20 million viewers – NBC’s Sunday Night Football accounted for 13.

NBC’s Sunday Night Football is on pace to rank as the No. 1 show in U.S. household rating and viewership for the entire primetime television season for the fifth consecutive year (September-May season, based on Nielsen live plus same day data), which puts it in rare company as one of only four TV shows since 1950 to accomplish the feat, joining American Idol (2005-06 through 2010-11), The Cosby Show (1985-86 through 1989-90), All in the Family (1971-72 through 1975-76), and Gunsmoke (1957-58 through 1960-61).

Last Sunday’s Week 17 NBC Sunday Night Football game for the NFC North title, featuring the Minnesota Vikings’ 20-13 victory over the Green Bay Packers (8:31-11:35 p.m. ET), averaged 24.3 million viewers – topping by 17% the 20.7 million viewers for last year’s Week 17 SNF “AFC North Championship Game” (Pittsburgh’s 27-17 win over Cincinnati), which was also a non-elimination game, as both clubs had already qualified for the playoffs.  Vikings-Packers posted a 13.8/23 U.S. HH rating, up 16% from last year’s Week 17 game (11.9/20).

The 2015 Sunday Night Football season is also the most streamed SNF season ever. SNF delivered a record 3.4 million unique users – a 3% increase from the previous record set last season – watching the SNF live stream to desktops and tablets through NBC Sports Live Extra, NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product.  In addition, the 2015 NFL season delivered a record 303 million live minutes on NBC Sports Live Extra, up 75% from 2014.  The 2015 SNF slate also produced Live Extra’s 10 best non-Olympic authenticated events ever.

Monday Night Football on ESPN
ESPN’s presentation of the 46th season of MNF (17 telecasts in 16 weeks) in 2015 averaged an 8.1 US household rating, 9,392,000 households and 12,898,000 viewers (P2+), according to Nielsen. ESPN won the night all 16 weeks of the 2015 MNF season among all key male demos and adults 18-34 and 18-49; ESPN won the night 14 weeks among households and 13 weeks among viewers.

Across both ESPN and ESPN Deportes, 12.5 million Hispanic viewers (P2+) tuned in to MNF this season. On ESPN Deportes alone, 2.8 million Hispanic viewers (P2+) tuned into MNF this season, according to Nielsen.

The 17 Monday Night Football games (over 16 Mondays) this season generated an average minute audience of 178,000 on WatchESPN, an increase of 68 percent compared to 2014. WatchESPN also recorded its top 15 (and 16 of the top 18) highest audiences ever for MNF this season, its largest being the Vikings-49ers opening night doubleheader game that attracted an additional 230,000 average minute impressions to the TV audience.  Additionally, nine of the top 10 best days ever for ESPN Digital were recorded on NFL Sundays during the 2015 season, including its best day ever on Sept. 13 that attracted an average minute audience of 1.27 million across platforms, eclipsing the previous high set on Sept. 7, 2014 by 24 percent.

ESPN’s Monday Night Football season finale – a Denver Broncos’ 20-17 overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 28 – delivered a 9.4 US rating and 15,806,000 viewers, based on Nielsen ratings, giving ESPN its highest-rated and most-viewed MNF telecast of the season. The game peaked from 11:30-11:45 p.m. ET with an 11.2 rating and 18,580,000 viewers.

New Year’s Eve 6 Bowls Plummet on ESPN
Lopsided games and tough competition for the Semifinal Games from New Year’s Eve festivities led to a 13% drop in TV ratings for the New Year’s Six Bowls from last year. Overall, the ratings for the six major games played Thursday and Friday, including the semifinals in the Orange and Cotton bowls Thursday, averaged a 7.1 overnight rating, down from 8.2 last season, when the first playoff games drew record-breaking audiences to ESPN.

Total viewership for the semifinals played on New Year’s Eve between Michigan State and Alabama in the Cotton Bowl and Clemson and Oklahoma in Orange Bowl plummeted 34.4 percent, from 28,271,000 in 2015 to 18,552,000. Last season’s College Football Playoff semifinals, played on New Year’s Day, drew a record number cable viewers, and ratings that edged past 15 for both the Oregon-Florida State Rose Bowl and the Ohio State-Alabama Sugar Bowl.

It wasn’t much better on New Year’s Day, as all three major bowls were blowouts. The Rose Bowl (Stanford beat Iowa 45-16) on Friday drew its lowest rating (7.9) since it became part of the BCS in 1999. The Sugar Bowl, which Mississippi won 48-20 against Oklahoma State, drew a 5.3 rating, the lowest Sugar Bowl since the Bowl Championship Series was established in 1999. On a positive note, Ohio State’s 44-28 whooping of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl did earn a 6.2 rating, up 35% from last season’s Arizona-Boise State game.

Digitally, the New Year’s Six averaged 200,170 average minute impressions, 776,000 unique viewers and 43,871,000 total minutes for the six games, up 69%, 54% and 67% in each category, respectively. The 7.1 overnight rating average for the New Year’s Six – in which average margin victory across the six games was 24 points — is down 13% from last season’s 8.2. The four bowls which were not designated as a semifinal this season (Peach, Fiesta, Rose, and Sugar) averaged a 5.8 overnight, up 26% from the four bowls last season which were not semifinals (Peach, Fiesta, Orange and Cotton).

ESPN’s NBA Ratings Up Through the New Year
ESPN’s NBA viewership is up across its television and digital platforms compared to last season, according to Nielsen. Through 30 games (as of Jan. 5), the NBA is averaging 2,351,000 viewers (p2+) on ESPN and ABC combined, up four percent from 2,257,000 viewers (p2+) last season.

Additionally, ESPN is experiencing its most-watched NBA season across its digital platforms. On WatchESPN, the NBA has generated 152,000 unique viewers per game, up 61 percent from 95,000 last year.  WatchESPN is also up 78 percent in average minute audience for its NBA games, with 41,000 viewers compared to just over 23,000 a year ago.

Through two games on Christmas Day, viewership for the NBA on ABC is up 14 percent compared to last season. ABC is averaging 8,709,000 million viewers (p2+), compared to 7,648,000 million viewers (p2+) a year ago. The NBA on ABC resumes with the launch of its new franchise, NBA Saturday Primetime on ABC, Jan. 23, at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Through 28 games, the NBA on ESPN is averaging 1,855,000 viewers (p2+), up two percent from 1,816,000 viewers (p2+) last year. ESPN’s NBA coverage continues with four prime-time telecasts this week.

Ratings Odds and Ends
Kansas’ triple overtime 109-106 victory over Oklahoma on Monday night. The triple-overtime game was a classic. delivered a 1.9 overnight rating, according to ESPN, making the matchup the highest-rated “Big Monday” Big 12 game ever on ESPN, since records started being kept in 2002. According to ESPN, the game also was the second-highest-rated Monday night men’s college basketball game on record, behind a Pittsburgh-Connecticut game on Feb. 16, 2009. The numbers included a 16.8 overnight rating in Kansas City, which was the highest-rated market. The game also scored high numbers in Oklahoma, drawing a 10.7 rating in Oklahoma City and an 8.6 rating in Tulsa. (Kansas City Star)…

… In 2015, ESPN repeated as the top cable network in prime time among households and viewers (P2+), an accomplishment first achieved in 2014. ESPN also repeated previous yearly bests as cable’s best among all key men/adult demos.  On a Total Day basis, ESPN ranked first among full-time cable nets with M18+, M18-34, M18-49, M25-54, plus P18-49, and P25-54.  In 2015, ESPN aired 18 of cable’s top 27 most-viewed shows in terms of household impressions (12 of the top 27 in P2+).  With an average total-day audience of 900,963 viewers, ESPN outdrew all non-ESPN sports networks by 25 percent (719,425)…

…The 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship tournament attracted 15.3 million unique viewers to TSN and RDS in Canada, according to preliminary overnight data from Numeris. Audiences were up 16% for Team Canada games compared to the last tournament held in Europe (the 2014 IIHF WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP in Malmo, Sweden). 40% of Canadians aged 2-17 watched the World Juniors.

The World Juniors earned big audiences all tournament long, with the Gold Medal Game on Jan. 5 (Finland 4-3 overtime victory over Russia) attracting an average audience of 729,000 viewers to TSN (637,000) and RDS (92,000), making it the most-watched non-Canadian game of the 2016 IIHF WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP. Overall, more than 2.7 million unique Canadian viewers watched to the World Juniors championship game on TSN and RDS.

Team Canada’s five World Juniors games attracted an average audience of 2.1 million viewers: Canada-Finland (Quarter-Final) – 2.55 million; Canada-USA (Preliminary Round) – 2.88 million; Canada-Sweden (Preliminary Round) – 1.72 million; Canada-Switzerland (Preliminary Round) – 1.71 million; Canada-Denmark (Preliminary Round) – 1.46 million. Team Canada’s quarter-final loss to Finland on Saturday was the most-watched quarter-final game ever held outside North America, attracting an average audience of 2.55 million viewers on TSN (2.23 million) and RDS (316,000).

On Boxing Day, an average audience of 2.9 million Canadians watched Team Canada’s opening game against USA, making it the most-watched World Juniors opening game ever held outside North America, and the top-rated hockey game on any network to date in the 2015/16 broadcast year. TSN was the #1 network in Canada on December 26 (ahead of all conventional networks by a margin of at least 51%), on December 29, and January 2 (up 72% compared to the #2-ranked network)…

…NBA TV’s six live game telecasts scored upticks last week, including Total Day growing 26% in viewership and 26% in households, and key demos swelling 37% among People 18-49, 35% with Men 18-49, and 36% among Men 18-34. In addition, the network says its prime viewership last week was up 22% over its equivalent in 2015. Overall, since the start of the NBA regular season, during prime, NBA TV is  up 2% and 9%, respectively, in total viewership and households. (Cynopsis Sports)…

… Coming off its highest rated year ever, the first round of the PGA TOUR’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Thursday night posted its “Highest Overnight Rating Ever” on Golf Channel (First Rounds, 2007-2016). The four-hour live primetime coverage posted a .33 Overnight rating (+27% vs. 2015) from 6-10 p.m. ET.

In 2015, Golf Channel matched its highest-rated year ever (.11 HH Cvg Rtg, 24-hour Total Day 6AM-6AM) for the second consecutive year, according to data released by The Nielsen Company. Since joining NBC Sports Group in 2011, Golf Channel has scored its five best years ever and has increased ratings +57% and viewership +43% over that span. Also in 2015, Golf Channel continued as the No. 1 most-affluent ad-supported television network in both total day and primetime for the second consecutive year. In 2015, NBC Sports Group reached more than 73 million unique 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. Golf Channel televised 128 events that reached more than 500k viewers (+133% vs. 2010, +14% vs. 2014) and 13 events that reached more than 1 million viewers (+117% vs. 2010, +225% vs. 2014). This led to Golf Channel posting its second most-watched year (99,000 average viewers, 24-hour Total Day 6AM-6AM, 1% vs. 2014), surpassed only by 2013…

….Although the Jets ended up narrowly missing the NFL Playoffs, SNY reports that its Jets Post-Game Live finished the season with a 43% uptick in households and a 35% rise in total viewers. The season saw the show deliver a 0.57 household rating, marking with highest ever for a season of Jets Post-Game Live, with 50,401 total viewers. (Cynopsis Sports)