Ratings Roundup: National Title Rematch Breaks Seven Year Record; Cowboys-Saints Becomes Most Watched in TNF History

Ratings roundup is a rundown of rating news from the past week and is derived from press releases and reports around the industry. In this week’s edition, Championship Weekend in college football is accented an Alabama vs. Georgia rematch, a Cowboys stunner over the Saints becomes the most-watched game in the 12-year history of Thursday Night Football, some of the major networks recap their 2018 college football season, and ESPN’s First Take registered its best November on record.

Photo: Brett Davis, USA Today Sports

SEC Championship Shatters Seven Year Watermark
Alabama and Georgia met for the first time since their overtime thriller in 2017 National Championship game. This time, it was for the SEC crown. SEC on CBS received the highest-rated regular season college football game on any network in the last seven years, with a 10.1/23 rating and 17.5 million viewers. The game rating/share peaked at 14.4/28 from 7:30-7:45 PM, ET. In addition, the matchup was the conference’s second highest-rated game in 26 years since the first SEC title game in 1992.

On the digital side, streaming on CBS All Access and other platforms saw double-digit percent increases vs. last year in key usage metrics, including +71% in unique viewers, +67% in total streams, and +59% in time spent. All Access aw a +63% increase

The top five-rated markets include Birmingham (56.7/74), Atlanta (33.9/57), Greenville-Spartanburg (25.2/39), Jacksonville (24.5/39), and Knoxville (23/36)…

…ABC’s presentation of the Big 12 Championship between Oklahoma and Texas delivered a total live audience of 10,299,000 viewers, a top four most-watched game of the season. The game highlighted a championship week that saw ESPN/ABC combine on a number of superlatives, including:

  • Mountain West: The most-viewed MW Championship Game on ESPN/ESPN2
  • Inaugural Sun Belt Championship: Most-viewed Sun Belt Conference Game on ESPN/ESPN2 Since 2011

Saints-Cowboys Showdown in Dallas Sets New Standard on Thursday Night Football
Thursday Night Football, featuring the Dallas Cowboys’ 13-10 win over the New Orleans Saints, was seen by an average audience of 22.2 million viewers across all platforms, including Fox, NFL Network, Fox Deportes, NFL digital, Fox Sports digital, Amazon, and Yahoo Sports, making it the most-watched Thursday Night Football game ever.

The 22.2 million viewers for Saints-Cowboys across all platforms is up +56% versus the 2017 10-game Thursday Night Football average and up +39%versus last year’s Week 13 Thursday Night Football matchup between the Cowboys and Washington Redskins (TV+digital).

The Nielsen-measured audience was 21.4 million viewers– up +55% versus the 2017 10-game Thursday Night Football average on CBS/NBC and NFL Network (13.8 million) and up +37%versus the 2017 Week 13 Thursday Night Football game (15.6 million). Additionally, Saints-Cowboys averaged a 12.6 HH rating – up +50% versus the 2017 10-game Thursday Night Football average (8.4 HH rating), and up +34% versus last year’s Redskins-Cowboys matchup (9.4 HH rating).

Digital streaming across Amazon Prime Video, Twitch, NFL digital platforms, Fox Sports digital platforms, and Yahoo Sports produced an average minute audience of 1.1 million – an increase of +155% versus the 2017 10-game average (439K) and up +142%versus last year’s Week 13 Thursday Night Football matchup (463K).

Amazon Prime Video and Twitch reached a total of 2.9 million combined viewers worldwide for the Fox NFL Thursday pregame show and the Saints-Cowboys game. For the Saints-Cowboys game alone, 2.5 million worldwide viewers initiated a stream on Prime Video or Twitch. The average worldwide audience watching Thursday Night Football for at least 30 seconds on Prime Video or Twitch was 747K, a 109% increase over week 13 in 2017…

…Week 13 on Fox was led by New England’s victory over Minnesota with a 13.5 rating (a 13% increase from last year) and 23.2 million viewers. Fox’s early window, with 46% of the audience watching the Chicago Bears vs. the New York Giants, brought in an 8.75 rating and a +29% increase. The window saw 14.2 million viewers.

So far this season, Fox is outpacing its production from last season. On America’s Game of the Week, this edition is seeing +15%, the regional window has a +27% (compared to last year’s Week 13), Fox NFL Sunday is receiving a +11 increase, and Fox NFL Kickoff is +1% and is off to their best start ever as well…

…According to SportsMediaWatch, NBC’s Sunday Night Football ratings suffered a rare decline in Week 13. Chargers-Steelers earned a 10.5 rating and 17.83 million viewers, down 7% in ratings and 9% in viewership from last year (Eagles-Seahawks: 11.3, 19.7M), but up 3% and a fraction of a percent, respectively, from 2016 (Panthers-Seahawks: 10.2, 17.75M).

Los Angeles’ win posted the third-smallest audience on NBC this season, ahead of Bengals-Chiefs in Week 7 (16.0M) and Saints-Vikings opposite the World Series in Week 8 (14.1M)…

Monday Night Football’s presentation, featuring a Philadelphia Eagles’ 28-13 victory over the Washington Redskins, averaged 11,356,000 viewers across ESPN and ESPN Deportes, according to Nielsen. This is an increase of 4% vs. last year’s week 13 game (10,962,000 million viewers for Bengals-Steelers).

ESPN won the night among all networks, broadcast or cable, in households, viewers, and all key male and adult demos (18-34, 18-49, 25-54) for the 13th straight Monday this fall. Redskins-Eagles was also the most-watched telecast of the night across all broadcast and cable networks among those same categories.

On ESPN, Redskins-Eagles averaged a 6.9 US household rating and 11,237,000 viewers. The telecast peaked from 9:30-9:45 p.m. ET with a 7.9 US household rating and 13,126,000 viewers. On ESPN Deportes, Redskins-Eagles averaged an additional 119,000 viewers.

Through Week 13, MNF on ESPN is up 9% vs. last year, averaging 10,737,000 viewers.

In local markets Washington, D.C. delivered an 11.7 rating on ESPN and a 9.9 rating on WJLA-ABC, for a combined 21.6 rating in the market. In Philadelphia, the game delivered a 10.1 rating on ESPN and a 21.6 rating on WPVI-ABC, for a combined 31.7 rating in the market.

The top metered markets (not including those of the competing teams): Richmond-Petersburg (16.9), Norfolk (15.4), New Orleans (13.6), Dallas-Fort Worth (12.2), Baltimore (10.9), San Diego (10.6), Austin (10.5), Denver (10.4), Kansas City (10.3), and Seattle-Tacoma (10.2).

Major Networks Crunch Ratings Numbers for 2018 College Football Season
The SEC on CBS scored the highest-rated college football package for the 10th consecutive season. The coverage averaged a household rating/share of 3.4/9, according to Nielsen national ratings, topping all other networks and up +13% vs. last year…

…On Fox, 2018 was the most-watched college football regular season in the broadcast network’s history. This season’s average viewership on the network was up +3% over last year (vs. 3,224,000), according to Nielsen Media Research, while the average-minute audience for college football on Fox  Sports streaming services is up +33% (16,000 in 2018 vs. 12,000 in 2017).

The rivalry matchup between Ohio State and Michigan ranks as Fox’s most-watched regular-season game ever and is up +26% over last year’s matchup (vs. 10,513,000). On Fox Sports streaming services, Ohio State-Michigan attracted an average-minute audience of 145,000, the platforms’ best-ever performance for a college football game…

…Lastly, more than 163 million fans watched 77 billion minutes of college football games on ESPN’s networks which is more fans reached than any other network and 33% more minutes watched than competitor networks combined. Additionally, more than 16.5 billion minutes were spent on ESPN’s Digital Platforms during college football Saturdays this year, up 15% year-over-year.

ABC’s Saturday Night Football averaged 5,077,000 viewers, the most-watched prime-time audience across all networks with regular primetime packages and besting the regular broadcast competition by 71%. On a weekly basis, ABC’s Saturday Night Football aired the most-watched primetime game nine times and ESPN did this twice, a feat no other broadcast network achieved more than once. In seven of the 14 weeks, ABC and ESPN combined to air the two most-watched primetime games across all networks.

Across ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU, ESPN networks averaged 8,795,000 viewers in prime-time each week, including 2,830,000 viewers on ESPN. The 8.8 million viewers watching ESPN’s networks is similar to airing a top three prime-time game each week.

ESPN and ABC’s prime-time success extended beyond its college football competition, as the sport drove the two networks to “win the night” nine times this season, out-delivering all programming on all other networks – sports and non-sports – among viewers P2+. Narrowing it down to key demos, the networks’ performance is stronger, as college football resulted in ABC/ESPN leading the male 18-34, male 18-19 and male 25-54 demo 13 different times.

ABC aired four of the top nine most-watched games this season, and, combined with ESPN, 10 of the top 20 games. Among the individual highlights on both networks:

  • Ohio State at Penn State: Among top five most-watched September games on ABC in the last decade
  • Notre Dame at USC: The most-watched Fighting Irish game this season on any network and the most-watched game featuring Notre Dame since September 2016
  • Ohio State vs. TCU: Fifth-highest viewership for a September, non-opening week Saturday Night Football game in the last 10 years.
  • Virginia Tech vs. Florida State: First Labor Day night Megacast leads to double-digit growth on Labor Day night year-over-year
  • Oklahoma at West Virginia: Top three ESPN regular season Friday viewerships on record, which dates back to 1993
  • Clemson at Texas A&M: Cable’s second-most-watched Saturday game since November 2016

College GameDay Built by The Home Depot averaged 1,902,000 viewers across ESPN and ESPNU, up 3% from last season’s ESPN-only presentation. The show’s week 13 episode from Columbus, Ohio, earned 2,478,000 viewers, the second-most-watched show since 2011.

Across ESPN/ABC, Birmingham was the highest-rated local market once again with a 6.7 rating, a feat the market has achieved each year since records began in 2002. Others in the top ten include Columbus, OH (4.9), Tulsa (4.8), Oklahoma City (4.7), Greenville (4.0), Jacksonville/New Orleans/Dayton (3.2), Knoxville (3.1), and Nashville (3.0).

First Take Seizes Success in Month of November
ESPN’s popular morning debate show First Take — featuring Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman, and host Molly Qerim Rose — had its most-watched November on record, averaging 529,000 viewers during the month, according to Nielsen. For the month, First Take was also up 2% over November 2017.

Driven by First Take, ESPN was the number one cable network in November from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. ET across men 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54 and people 18-49. For men 18-34, this marks the 10th month this year that ESPN ranked as the leading cable network in that time slot.

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