SBD/December 19, 2013/Media

College Football Viewership Rises On CBS, ESPN, Fox, While NBC, ABC Down

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CBS and ESPN’s cable networks saw gains for college football telecasts in ’13 after a few years of audience declines. CBS’ slate of SEC games was the top-rated college football package again this season with 7.4 million average viewers. That figure is up nearly 20% from ’12, fueled by four of the five most-viewed college football games this season. CBS’ mark this season is also its best since ’01, when the net went to a primarily SEC schedule. ESPN also saw gains this season across each of its cable TV networks. ESPN averaged 2.6 million viewers for games on the flagship network, up 2.6% from ’12. ESPN2 also saw an 8% jump for its slate of games, while ESPNU was up 4%. ESPNews aired some regularly-scheduled games for the first time this season, with the net averaging 162,000 viewers. While cable telecasts were up for ESPN, games on ABC saw a drop from ’12. College football telecasts on ABC averaged 4.8 million viewers in ’13, down 4% and marking the lowest average in at least the last five seasons.

WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY? Fox averaged 3.1 million viewers for its college football games, up 10% from last year. The net was seeing a decline most of the season, but got a huge boost from the Big Ten Championship that pushed its audience figures into the black. FS1 also had its first season of college football games, with the net averaging 529,000 viewers. Last season, a smaller package of games aired on FX, with those games averaging 611,000 viewers.

AROUND THE SOUTH BEND: Notre Dame telecasts on NBC averaged 3.3 million viewers this season, down 24% compared to last year, when the school made the national championship game. Despite the drop, NBC’s average is still up from figures in ’11 and ’10. NBCSN, which now has a package of CAA and Ivy League games, averaged 62,000 viewers this season, down 39% from last year, when the net still had Mountain West Conference games. NBCSN’s average has dropped sharply in recent years as it has now renewed rights to the Pac-12 and Big 12 as well.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAME VIEWERSHIP TREND
NET
'13 (000)
'12 (000)
'11 (000)
'10 (000)
'09 (000)
CBS*
7,353
6,141
6,857
6,944
6,993
ABC
4,777
4,975
5,522
4,975
5,522
NBC
3,340
4,381
2,617
3,130
3,684
Fox
3,116
2,839
n/a
n/a
n/a
ESPN
2,644
2,576
2,674
2,966
2,874
ESPN2
1,108
1,028
1,179
1,416
1,492
FS1**
529
611
1,016
n/a
n/a
ESPNU
400
385
n/a
n/a
n/a
ESPNews
162
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
NBCSN
62
101
366
411
322
           

CHART NOTES: * = SEC games only. ** = Compared to FX in '12 and '11.

GAME TIME: CBS’ Auburn-Missouri SEC Championship game telecast topped all games this season with 14.4 million viewers, followed by Fox’ Michigan State-Ohio State Big Ten Championship game with 13.9 million viewers. CBS and ABC each had six telecasts in the top 10 this season. ABC’s top game was the Ohio State-Michigan game with 9.5 million viewers. College football gave FS1 its two best audiences since its Aug. 17 launch. Oregon State-Oregon on Nov. 29 drew a network-record 2.2 million viewers, while Oklahoma-Baylor on Nov. 7 drew 2.1 million viewers. Michigan State-Notre Dame on Sept. 21 was NBC’s top game with 4.8 million viewers, which also marks the net’s best audience for that matchup since ’05. NBCSN’s top audience -- and only game to draw over 100,000 viewers -- was Harvard-Yale on Nov. 23 with 129,000.

MOST-VIEWED REGULAR-SEASON COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAMES
RANK
NET
DATE
START (ET)
MATCHUP
VIEWERS (000)
1
CBS
12/7
4:00pm
SEC Championship: Auburn-Missouri
14,354
2
Fox
12/7
8:20pm
Big Ten Championship: Michigan State-Ohio State
13,900
3
CBS
11/30
3:30pm
Alabama-Auburn
13,779
4
CBS
9/14
3:30pm
Alabama-Texas A&M
13,586
5
CBS
11/9
8:00pm
LSU-Alabama
11,834
6
ABC
11/30
12:01pm
Ohio State-Michigan
9,503
7
ESPN
9/7
8:00pm
Notre Dame-Michigan
8,653
8
ABC
11/2
8:07pm
Miami-Florida State
8,354
9
ABC
8/31
8:22pm
Georgia-Clemson
8,050
10
CBS
11/23
3:30pm
Texas A&M-LSU
7,505
11
CBS
9/28
3:30pm
LSU-Georgia
7,392
12
ABC
10/5
8:05pm
Ohio State-Northwestern
7,355
13
ABC
12/7
12:01pm
Oklahoma-Oklahoma State
7,284
14
ESPN
9/7
4:25pm
South Carolina-Georgia
7,045
15
ABC
9/28
8:06pm
Wisconsin-Ohio State
6,751
           

RETURN OF THE MAC: Mid-American Conference telecasts on ESPN2 this season, which typically air late in the season, averaged 927,000 viewers, marking the best “MACtion” figure since ’09. The 927,000 viewers mark also is up 22% from last year. Northern Illinois fueled many of the telecasts as the school attempted another run at an undefeated season. The Bowling Green-NIU MAC Championship on Dec. 6 drew 1.9 million viewers, marking the best figure for that game on record.

AUDIENCE TREND FOR MAC FOOTBALL GAMES ON ESPN2
YEAR
GAMES
VIEWERS (000)
'13
7
927
'12
5
757
'11
7
748
'10
6
873
'09
6
1,011
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