With the addition of eight Thursday-night games this season on CBS, there are now four principal time periods each week in which to watch the NFL on a national network: Thursday evening, Sunday afternoon on CBS and Fox, Sunday night on NBC and Monday night on ESPN. But it’s in primetime on both Thursday and Sunday — when CBS and NBC, respectively, air games with no other game being played anywhere else — that the NFL packs its most powerful punch.
While the NFL games seen this past Sunday afternoon largely held their own, and even dipped slightly compared to a year ago, two primetime showcases demonstrated just how potent football games can be when they’re aired live in the evening with no other football competition.
CBS scored with its first Thursday night game last week, improving on its year-ago lineup of entertainment shows by a whopping 234%. And on Sunday, NBC’s Sunday Night Football game between the Bears and 49ers improved on last year’s game on the same Sunday by almost 2 million viewers.
Both games emerged as the week’s highest-rated primetime telecasts, and served to bolster the NFL’s already considerable status as a provider of the kind of live, “event” programming that network TV is craving these days for one big reason: Football games are virtually DVR-proof, which means millions will tune in to watch NFL telecasts in real time, including commercials.
With the addition of eight Thursday-night games this season on CBS, there are now four principal time periods each week in which to watch the NFL on a national network: Thursday evening, Sunday afternoon on CBS and Fox, Sunday night on NBC and Monday night on ESPN.
But it’s in primetime on both Thursday and Sunday — when CBS and NBC, respectively, air games with no other game being played anywhere else — that the NFL packs its most powerful punch.
Last Thursday, the game on CBS between the Steelers and Ravens drew 20.77 million viewers, according to Nielsen — compared to 5.8 million on Sept. 12, 2013, for a Big Bang Theory repeat, a half-hour CBS fall preview special, an episode of Big Brother and a repeat of Elementary. The CBS Thursday game also scored an 8.3 rating/23 share in the demo (25-54). A year ago, there was a Thursday night game — the New York Jets vs. the New England Patriots — but that telecast was seen only on the sometimes hard-to-find NFL Network and drew just 11 million viewers.
This year, CBS’s Thursday night telecasts are being simulcast on the NFL Network. Last Thursday’s 20.77 million figure represents a combination of the total audience on CBS and the NFL Network. And while CBS wouldn’t reveal how the viewership was divided between CBS and the NFL’s own network, the network insists that the majority of the viewership was on CBS (while also stressing that the telecast was a CBS production too).
This past Sunday, the game on NBC drew 22.15 million viewers, and an 8.5 rating/25 share in the 18-49 demo — up from the game on Sept. 15, 2013, that drew 20.5 million (San Francisco vs. Seattle). As it has been on almost every Sunday in past seasons, the game on NBC was the top-rated program in primetime last week.
By contrast, the games seen this past Sunday afternoon — the NFC on Fox and AFC on CBS — were slightly down from the same Sunday a year ago, according to overnight figures provided to TVNewsCheck.
CBS’s four early-afternoon AFC games on Sunday had an average household rating/share of 9.9/21, down from 10.7/23 a year ago. CBS’s three late-afternoon games averaged a 14.6/28, down more significantly from a year ago, when two games averaged a 17.8 rating/34 share. But, as a CBS Sports spokesman pointed out, the big draw a year ago was a rare and highly anticipated face-off between quarterback brothers, Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos and Eli Manning of the New York Giants, in a game that was played in New York.
On Fox this past Sunday afternoon, four early games and two late games scored a household average of 12.5/25, down only slightly from the seven games that aired on Fox a year ago (12.8/26). Demographic breakouts and total audience figures for the Sunday afternoon games on Fox and CBS won’t be available until later this week, according to both networks.
Meanwhile, ESPN’s Monday night game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts scored a household rating of 9.9, down ever-so slightly from the 10.3 rating a year ago on the same Monday.