Having passed the half-way point of the 2016-17 season, the decline among live ratings across all demos–particularly in primetime–has become an all too familiar story for the NFL. A recent analysis by Nielsen demonstrates that while the NFL’s reach has not declined, viewers are watching fewer games, and for shorter amounts of time when they do watch. This is part of a wider phenomenon affecting linear television in general, and supports our hypothesis of a fundamental change in behavior.
To be fair, Nielsen did find that the election and the 24-hour news cycle were having an impact on viewing, an assertion that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made a few weeks ago. However, when looking at the raw numbers, the news networks are not capturing the entire missing audience, especially among younger demos during primetime. It’s also of note that, at the same point last season, the NFL was also seeing declines (albeit less drastic).
So while declines may soften with the election now over, we don’t expect ratings to bounce back entirely.
NFL Week Ten Highlights
During week ten, CBS was the hardest hit, seeing large double-digit declines among all key demos, including a 42 percent decline among adults 18-49, largely due to not airing a national game. The same went for NFL Network, which continued its sole coverage of TNF (until November 17th when NBC starts their run of coverage), as adults 18-49 saw a 26 percent decline compared to 2015.
The one bright spot for the week was NBC’s SNF game, which was a hard-fought rematch of the 2015 Super Bowl, pitting the Seattle Seahawks against the polarizing New England Patriots. Live ratings, like the Seattle Seahawks, came out on top, growing among all key demos, including a 25 percent gain among adults 25-54.
Through week ten, the NFL as a whole has seen large drops across the board, with younger demos seeing the largest declines; most notably a 22 percent drop among adults and men 18-24.
Live streaming activity continues to make gains, as the most recent data available from ESPN shows their WatchESPN app had 583,000 unique viewers and 52.9 million minutes viewed for their week nine MNF coverage–a 21 and 51 percent increase, respectively. Still, these are not enough to make up for linear TV losses.
College Football Week 11 Highlights
It was a packed week 11 for college football, but as it came to a close Saturday evening, most networks experienced declines. FOX was the one exception, as their coverage of number 15 seeded USC’s upset over number 7 seeded University of Washington saw gains among all key demos, including a 74 percent gain among adults 21-34.