While the football-airing networks strive for production excellence and quality broadcasting each week, the ultimate scoreboard is ratings. For television executives, your best opportunity for that winter house in Vail is when viewership numbers are rolling, and the opening week of the playoffs could not have gone better for the networks thanks to a combination of frigid weather across the United States and matchups decided in the final minutes. Last weekend NFL games averaged 34.7 million viewers, the most-watched wild-card weekend ever.
Leading the way was FOX’s coverage of the 49ers’ last-second win over the Packers, the most-watched telecast of any kind since Super Bowl XLVII (Feb. 3, 2013). The telecast drew an astonishing 47.1 million viewers, setting a wild-card playoff record on any network since at least 1988, according to FOX. It was 11% higher than the previously most-watched wild-card game, Steelers-Broncos in 2011, which drew 42.4 million. The game peaked in the final half hour (7:30-7:51 p.m. ET), with an astonishing 53.4 million viewers.
NBC’s telecast of the Saints’ first road playoff victory in franchise history was the most-watched wild-card Saturday game in NFL history, averaging 34.4 million viewers. The game peaked at 36.6 million for the game’s final minutes from 11-11:23 p.m. ET. The network’s earlier Saturday broadcast—the Colts’ come-from-behind victory over the Chiefs—averaged 27.6 million viewers, with viewership peaking at 38.1 million. If you combined the two games, NBC’s broadcasts averaged 30.8 million viewers, up 14 percent from last year’s 26.9 million average for those games.
The Chargers’ win over the Bengals on CBS was viewed by an average of 30.9 million viewers, the highest in 19 years for an early Sunday AFC wild-card game and up 4% from last year’s game in the same time slot. The average viewership peaked at 36.2 million in the game’s final half-hour.
The wild-card numbers augur monster ratings as the postseason heads into the divisional round this weekend. For those interested in how networks did during the regular season, I have some highlights below:
• The network said its regular-season schedule averaged 18.7 million viewers, a 6% increase over last year’s 17.7 million viewers. The 18.7 million viewers were second highest number of average viewers in 26 years for the regular-season AFC television package.
• The Top 10 markets (in descending order through Week 16) for CBS’s NFL coverage: Kansas City; Buffalo; Indianapolis; Cincinnati; Baltimore; Pittsburgh; Nashville; Denver; Boston; Cleveland.
Pregame: The NFL Today averaged 3.3 million viewers, about 28% lower than FOX NFL Sunday.
• FOX said its regular-season schedule delivered its most NFL viewers since the network began broadcasting NFL games in 1994. The network’s games averaged 21.2 million viewers, an 8% increase over last year’s viewership (19.7 million) and 5% over 2010 for the most-watched NFL on FOX season ever. FOX said its four most-watched NFL seasons have come over the past four years (2013: 21.2 million; 2010: 20.11 million; 2011: 20.96 million, and 2012:19.7 million).
• The network’s national game of the week—the late-afternoon window—averaged 27.2 million viewers. It was FOX’s most-watched package on record, eclipsing the previous record set in 2009 (26.2 million viewers).
• FOX said it increased its female viewers in 2013, including the demographics of women between 18-34, women 18-49 and women 25-54 (the latter was up 10%). The season average among women 18-49 tied for the highest-rated ever, and women between 25-54 ranked as the network’s best ever.
Pregame: FOX NFL Sunday averaged 4.8 million viewers, up 4% in audience over last year (4.6 million viewers) and 39% higher than CBS’s The NFL Today.
• ESPN said its 17 Monday Night Football telecasts averaged 13,679,000 viewers. It was the third-most viewed season in ESPN’s eight years of presenting MNF. The network had six of cable’s 10 biggest audiences for the calendar year among viewers, and ESPN said eight times during its schedule it won the night as the most-watched network among households and total viewers—cable or broadcast—in prime time.
• ESPN’s most-viewed MNF game came on Sept. 9 when 16,524,000 viewers watched the Eagles at Redskins season opener.
• The 10 highest-rated markets for Monday Night Football in 2013: 1. New Orleans; 2. Sacramento; 3. Las Vegas; 4. San Diego; 5. Richmond, Va.; 6. Seattle-Tacoma; 7. Norfolk-Portsmouth, Va.; 8. Washington D.C.; 9. Charlotte; and 10. Baltimore.
• Monday Night Football on ESPN Deportes averaged 45,000 Hispanic households and 68,000 Hispanic viewers for the 17-game schedule in 2013, the most-watched MNF season on record for ESPN Deportes among Hispanic viewers.
• ESPN’s Monday Night Football online streaming generated an average minute audience of 610,000, an increase of 31% compared to 2012.
Pregame: Sunday NFL Countdown averaged 2.2 million viewers (up from last year’s 2.1).
• Sunday Night Football averaged 21.7 million viewers (up from 21.4 million in 2012) for its 19 NFL regular-season telecasts, the second-best viewership mark in NBC’s eight seasons of broadcasting the NFL’s Sunday primetime package. (The highest ever was 21.8 million, in 2010.)
• The most watched SNF broadcast was the Eagles-Cowboys game on Dec. 29. It drew 27.4 million viewers.
• Sunday Night Football was the No. 1 show in prime time for the fourth consecutive fall television season, and it won every key adult and male demos, including Adults 18-49. The show ranked first among Women 18-49, the first time the NFL primetime package won the fall TV season in that demo. It was also tops among Women 18-34 for the fall primetime for the third year in row, and it tied for No. 2 with The Voice in the Women 25-54 demographic behind only The Big Bang Theory.
• The Top 20 TV markets for Sunday Night Football: 1. New Orleans; 2. Denver; 3. Richmond; 4. Indianapolis; 5. Las Vegas; 6. Sacramento; 7. Albuquerque; 8. Dallas; 9. Baltimore; T-10. Seattle; T-10. Kansas City; T12. Washington D.C.; T12. Norfolk; 14. San Diego;15. Charlotte; 16. Phoenix; T-17. Pittsburgh; T-17. Nashville; T-17. Austin and T-17. Greensboro.
Pregame: Football Night in America averaged 8.0 million viewers in 2013, up 3% from last season.
• The 13-game schedule produced the most-watched season for Thursday Night Football, with an average of 8.0 million viewers. That was up 10% from the 2012 season average.
• The most-viewed game came in Week 3 when an average of 11.1 million viewers watched the Chiefs defeat the Eagles on Sept. 19. The game’s 7.0 rating was the highest-rated Thursday Night Football telecast in NFL Network history.
Pregame: NFL GameDay Morning averaged 478,000 viewers for the 2013 season.
1. FOX awarded the team of Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch with the call of Saturday’s Saints-Seahawks game. (Erin Andrews will be on the sidelines.) The divisional game assignment is given by FOX Sports executives to the team they felt had the best season behind lead announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. “We’ve found Kevin, John and Erin to be a really enjoyable and comfortable broadcast team,” said FOX Sports executive producer John Entz. “They have fantastic chemistry both on and off the air and it shows during their broadcasts. Both (producer) Pete Macheska and (director) Artie Kempner deserve a huge amount of credit for bringing this crew as far along as they have in such a short amount of time.” I wrote about Burkhardt’s unusual path to the NFL broadcast booth before the season.
2. NBC had the good fortune of landing the Colts’ epic comeback win over the Chiefs last week. How did those in the booth assess how the broadcast documented the second half of the game? “We were very careful to document both sides of the comeback, all while trying to stay out of the way because the game had an amazing energy of its own,” said game producer Rob Hyland. “We used commentary, graphics and highlights to give the comeback the proper historical perspective, but it was just as important to chronicle the disproportionate number of Kansas City injuries. They were down to their third-string running back in an NFL playoff game and that contributed to the narrative.”
3. CBS is streaming its coverage of the AFC playoffs (on CBSSports.com) for the first time ever this postseason. The divisional games this Saturday and Sunday, as well as the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 19, will be part of the coverage. FOX streamed the Niners-Packers game on FOX Sports Go on Sunday—the first NFL game streamed by the services—and there were significant tech issues, at least early. FOX Sports PR issued a statement during the second quarter of the game: “Our understanding is that the technical issues we were experiencing have been resolved, and we apologize for any inconvenience.”
4. CBS NFL analyst Dan Dierdorf will call his final NFL national broadcast on Saturday after 30 years in the booth. The 64-year-old Dierdorf and Greg Gumbel have the Colts-Patriots. On the idea of a tribute at game’s end, Dierdorf said on a Tuesday conference call, “I wouldn’t want to clutter the end of this game with making it anything about me.”
5. NBC did a very cool thing last Saturday by assigning former Saints safety Steve Gleason to serve as the guest social media editor for the Saints-Eagles game. Gleason tweeted through his @TeamGleason Twitter account using eye-tracking technology to type. The assignment raised awareness for the fight against battling Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), as well as provided some fantastic commentary (https://twitter.com/TeamGleason/statuses/419642803975892992). Here’s hoping we see more of Gleason tweeting games for the NFL networks in the future.