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Volume 24 No. 180
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Most Networks See Viewership Drop For College Football; Big Ten Boosts Fox Sports

College football viewership took a hit this season, with CBS, ABC, NBC and ESPN all posting significant declines. Figures for ESPN2 were not available at presstime. Fox, as expected, was the one outlier, as it easily passed its previous record-high viewership levels for CFB this season, its first with a healthy dose of Big Ten games. Viewership for the broadcast net’s CFB games jumped 23% from '16. CBS’ SEC package tumbled again (-10%), marking the fourth straight viewership drop. CBS' SEC package may have been the most-viewed individual net for the ninth straight CFB season, but this year’s average was its lowest in well over a decade. ABC also saw a sharp 18% drop, posting its lowest mark in over a decade. ABC’s “Saturday Night Football” was down 4% from '16, even though its “Saturday Night Football” window remained college football’s most-viewed window with 5.7 million viewers. That comes despite the fact ABC cannot show SEC games in primetime on Saturdays and Fox took many attractive matchups. Meanwhile, NBC saw a 3% drop for its Notre Dame package this season. With Notre Dame coming off a 4-8 season in ’16, viewership tanked in the first four games (-10%), but recovered as the season wore on. Viewership was up 15% for NBC’s final three telecasts compared to last season. Among the reasons for the drops? Insiders complain there were too many college football games this season, with perhaps more games aired on linear TV than ever before. Much of that was due to Fox Sports having an expanded Big Ten package, providing more options for Fox and FS1. That increased availability of games for fans led to a drop in average viewership for many nets.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL VIEWERSHIP TREND
NET
'17 (000)
'16 (000)
% +/-
'15 (000)
'14 (000)
CBS
4,951
5,489
-10%
5,597
6,380
ABC
4,203
5,097
-18%
4,921
5,101
Fox
3,625
2,951
23%
3,040
2,573
NBC
2,742
2,814
-3%
2,954
3,226
ESPN
2,155
2,300
-6%
2,721
2,660
FS1
819
743
10%
608
670

CABLE KINGS: ESPN was easily the most-viewed cable net for CFB, despite a 10% gain for FS1. But with fewer Big Ten matchups, ESPN was down 6%, and like ABC, saw its lowest average in at least a decade. For FS1, its average of 819,000 viewers was its best since the network launched. However, it was below what the cable net FX averaged for its games in ’11 (1.01 million viewers). Figures also are unavailable for conference channels like SEC Network, Big Ten Network and Pac-12 Networks.

PLAYING WITH THE BIG BOYS: The top games of the ’17 season were spread out among Fox, CBS and ABC. Among the top 15 games, ABC had six, while CBS and Fox had four each, with ESPN taking one spot. SEC games took the top two spots, with CBS’ Iron Bowl telecast leading the way with 13.7 million viewers, followed by the SEC Championship at 13.5 million viewers. Among the four CFP teams, Alabama had the most games in the top 15 with four telecasts, while Oklahoma and Georgia had two each. Clemson did not have a game in the top 15.

DATE
NET
TELECAST
START (ET)
VIEWERS (000)
11/25
CBS
Alabama-Auburn
3:30pm
13,657
12/2
CBS
SEC Championship: Georgia-Auburn
4:00pm
13,466
12/2
Fox
Big Ten Championship: Ohio State-Wisconsin
8:18pm
12,918
9/2
ABC
Florida State-Alabama
8:07pm
12,335
11/25
Fox
Ohio State-Michigan
12:00pm
10,507
10/28
Fox
Penn State-Ohio State
3:36pm
9,868
9/9
ABC
Oklahoma-Ohio State
7:36pm
8,081
9/2
ABC
Michigan-Florida
3:31pm
7,650
11/11
CBS
Georgia-Auburn
3:45pm
7,407
11/11
ESPN
Alabama-Mississippi State
7:01pm
7,031
10/21
ABC
Michigan-Penn State
7:36pm
6,954
11/4
CBS
LSU-Alabama
8:00pm
6,729
11/11
ABC
Notre Dame-Miami
8:07pm
6,727
10/7
ABC
Michigan State-Michigan
7:36pm
6,508
12/2
Fox
Big 12 Championship: Oklahoma-TCU
12:49pm
5,896