NFL Playoffs on NBC, CBS and Fox This Weekend: Smart Bet for Advertisers
By John Consoli -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/4/2013 2:07:45 PM
Any advertiser wanting to reach a mass audience that includes not only harder-to-reach men but also lots of women should be locked in with their ad units by now. While this weekend's games are likely sold out, it won't hurt to have media buyers check on last-minute avails, if not for this weekend, than for the next two.
Last year in the wild-card playoff round, NBC drew about 54 million for its two games on opening round Saturday. On that Sunday, Fox drew 27.7 million for its 1 p.m. Sunday game between the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons and CBS drew 42.3 million for its 4:30 p.m. game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos-and yes, that was the game that Tim Tebow led Denver to an upset victory over the Steelers. Seems like a billion years ago. But this year's 4:30 p.m. game on Fox will pit the surprising Seattle Seahawks with its rookie quarterback Russell Wilson against the Washington Redskins and its rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. Viewership for that game could surpass the 42.3 million for the comparable game on CBS last year, especially with curious fans tuning in to see RG3 at work.
Ratings for the playoff games usually grow over the following two weekends leading out of the wild-card games. The AFC championship game last year on CBS, which began at 3 p.m. on Sunday with the New England Patriots defeating the Baltimore Ravens, drew 48.6 million viewers. The NFC championship began at 6:30, with the New York Giants beating the San Francisco 49ers in overtime; it drew 57.6 million viewers.
The NFL is still the hottest game in the country and the biggest draw on television. While regular season viewership was down on both NBC and Fox in the fourth quarter, it wasn't down much. Viewership for NBC's Sunday Night Football telecasts averaged 21.4 million viewers, just a hair down from 21.5 million per game for the previous season. And for the third straight year, SNF was the fourth quarter's top-ranked primetime show in total viewers and adults 18-49. And Fox averaged 19.7 million viewers for its Sunday daytime games, down just 2% from the previous season's 20.1 million.
While the playoff viewership averages from last year listed above include many repeat viewers for each of the games, the NFL has released some Nielsen data based on the just-ended regular season that showed 200 million unique viewers. That means 80% of all TV homes and 69% of potential TV viewers in the U.S. watched NFL games this past regular season.
NFL games also accounted for 31 of the 32 most watched TV shows among all programming in fourth quarter. And for the first time ever, an NFL game was the week's most-watched TV show in all 17 weeks of the season. The only non-football program to make the top 32 was the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC, which drew 22.4 million to rank 23rd. The most-watched regular season NFL game was the Dec. 30 Sunday Night Football game between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys on NBC, which drew 30.3 million viewers. Next was the Redskins-Cowboys game on Thanksgiving night on Fox, which drew 28.7 million viewers.
On the cable side, ESPN and NFL Network do not televise any playoff games. ESPN finished its regular season of Monday Night Football games averaging 12.8 million viewers, down 3.7% from the 2011 season. However, the 2011 season was down close to 10% from 2010. Unlike NBC, which is able to flex games toward the end of the season in and out of its TV schedule, ESPN cannot do that under its TV rights deal. So ESPN is locked into its one game per week schedule. Still, ESPN's MNF was the most-watched show on cable for the seventh consecutive year.
The NFL Network, which televised an expanded 13-game package on Thursday nights, up from eight games last year, averaged a record 6.4 million viewers per game (not including over-the-air viewers in the televised teams' markets), up 3.2% from the 6.2 million viewers it averaged last season.
All in all, marketers who advertised in NFL game telecasts had to be pleased with the audiences they reached. And expect the TV partners to once again be looking for mid-to-high single-digit price increases when next season's NFL upfront talks begin.
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