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Volume 25 No. 44
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NFL Primetime Packages Down Again In '17, But Maintain Lead In TV Landscape

The NFL’s three primetime game packages saw another round of declines during the ’17 regular season, including a multiyear low for "Thursday Night Football," a record-low audience for "Monday Night Football" and the lowest figure for "Sunday Night Football" in a decade. These results were a surprise to both network and league execs, both of whom expected better viewership coming off of the over-heated presidential race last year. NBC averaged 18.2 million viewers for its “SNF” games, marking the package's lowest figure since ’08, when it averaged 16.6 million viewers. This year also is down 11% from '16, and down 19% from two seasons ago. But while “SNF” was down again, it has actually increased its lead over other entertainment and scripted TV shows in primetime. In its 12th year with the “SNF” package, NBC had its widest margin of victory of those shows. “SNF” viewership was 30% higher than the most-viewed scripted show -- CBS’ “Big Bang Theory” -- and 40% better than the second-best scripted show -- CBS’ “NCIS.” “SNF” also remains on pace to be the most-viewed primetime show for the seventh straight year, which would be a record for all of TV dating back to ’50. Eight of the top 10 most-viewed primetime TV programs in the fall were “SNF” games (World Series Games 6 and 7 were the other two). As recently as two to three years ago, there was much talk about AMC’s “The Walking Dead” challenging “SNF” among adults 18-49. But for the fall, “SNF” finished 61% higher in the demo compared to the Sunday night zombie show. This will be the 10th straight season that “SNF” has won the 18-49 demo. When factoring in streaming on NBC Sports Digital properties, “SNF” viewership jumps to 18.4 million viewers, a figure that might increase next season with NBC acquiring rights to stream games to mobile devices.

NFL REGULAR-SEASON GAME VIEWERSHIP
NETWORK
'17 (000)
'16 (000)
1-YR % +/-
'15 (000)
2-YR % +/-
NBC ("SNF")
18,175
20,323
-11%
22,522
-19%
NBC/CBS/NFL Net ("TNF")
10,937
12,438
-12%
12,425
-12%
ESPN ("MNF")
10,757
11,390
-6%
12,896
-17%
CHART NOTES: For "SNF" in '17, there was no Week 17 game, and the Week 16 game was played on a Saturday night to avoid Christmas Eve. For "TNF" in '17, there was one Sunday morning telecast, two Saturday afternoons, one Saturday night, and one on Christmas Day afternoon (a Monday). For "MNF" in '17, the Week 16 game fell on Christmas night

LAST CALL: After being up for most of ‘17, a weak finish to the regular season led ESPN to the least-viewed “MNF” slate on record. The net’s games averaged 10.8 million viewers, beneath the previous low of 11.2 million viewers in ’07. “MNF” was down 6% from ’16, and down 17% from two years ago. ESPN won primetime on all of TV for 10 of its 16 game nights (including one tie). For the fall season, "MNF" was again the No. 1 show on cable TV, ahead of "The Walking Dead" and HBO's "Game of Thrones." ESPN also saw 29% growth in game streaming this year, and like NBC, will have the ability to stream games to mobile devices for the ’18 season. 

SPREAD OPTION: The “TNF” package averaged 10.9 million viewers in ’17 across NBC, CBS and NFL Network. That package included 13 Thursday night games, as well as one Sunday morning game, two Saturday afternoons, one Saturday night and a Christmas Day game (on a Monday afternoon). That average of 10.9 million viewers was the lowest “TNF” figure since broadcast networks became partners in the package in ’14. “TNF” viewership was down 12% from both ’16 and ’15. While down from recent years, the portion of "TNF" that airs on NBC and CBS has established itself as a top five primetime TV property.

WHO’S THE BOSS? Milwaukee in ’17 was the top-rated market for “SNF” games for the first time since ’12. New Orleans and Richmond tied for No. 2, with Denver and Seattle-Tacoma rounding out the top five. Denver led “SNF” from ’14-16. Meanwhile, New Orleans was the top “MNF” market in ’17, followed by Norfolk, Richmond, San Diego and Philadelphia.