It’s the midway point of the 2014 NFL season and regardless if you are the World Series or a slew of bad press, the NFL is dominating the television ratings. The NFL looking to gain more exposure in 2014, decided to simulcast seven of their season’s first eight Thursday night games on both CBS and the NFL Network assuring increased viewership on Thursday night. Last year the Thursday night games were only televised on the cable-only NFL Network. This seasons NFL games can now be found on ESPN on Monday night, NBC on Sunday night and Thursday night on the CBS/NFL Network combo. Additionally there are the day games that air on FOX and CBS. All of this exposure, regardless of the recent negative headlines the NFL has had to deal with, has resulted in the NFL experiencing large increases in overall viewership from 2013.
Monday Night Football viewership on ESPN is up 7% this season and has consistently won primetime on Mondays. Through the first eight weeks of the season, MNF is averaging almost 14 million viewers (last years average was 13.7 million for the entire season). Similarily on NBC, Sunday Night Football continues to lead broadcast shows in primetime and Adults 18-49. Through eight weeks of the season, NBC is averaging 22.1 million viewers (last years average was 21.7 million for the entire season). The day games are in a similar situation with FOX averaging 20.8 million viewers for the first half of the season. That number is a 1% decline in viewership over 2013, their most-watched season ever. CBS is the only network showing a decline in the numbers (18.7 million in 2013 versus 17.5 million for the first seven weeks of the season). Yet, this is their third-highest viewer average since the NFL returned to the network in 1998. The week 9 Sunday game on CBS or “Manning vs. Brady” was the highest rated NFL game this season on CBS and the highest-rated game of the weekend on any network.
Major League Baseball in an effort to avoid the NFL juggernut elected to shift their World Series schedule to begin on Tuesday versus the typical Wednesday start. This allowed the league to avoid airing against both MNF & Thursday Night Football. Under the new schedule, a seven-game series would only overlap during the Sunday night game, the previous schedule would have meant four potential conflicts. This move also had it’s issues since one of the games was now airing on a Friday night, a lighter night for television viewership. Game 7 of the World Series, which brought San Francisco their championship, ended up being the highest rated game of the entire series with 23.5 million viewers. This helped tremendously with the overall series average which was only pacing at 13.4 million viewers for the first 6 games. The final series ended up with an average of 13.8 million viewers which exceeded the lows of 12.7 million in 2012 and 13.6 million in 2008. The head to head match-up of the top rated Game 7 of the World Series versus Sunday Night Football proved to be a bit of a tie. NBC’s Sunday Night Football was the highest rated program among Adults 18-49 while Game 7 of the World Series won with total viewers for the week.
However, one show that seems to be able to not only complete against the NFL but actually beat it in ratings is AMC’s The Walking Dead. This season of the zombie powerhouse has managed to beat NBC’s top-rated Sunday Night Football in the key demo of Adults 18-49. The shows fourth episode on November 2nd delivered 14.5 million viewers and an incredible 7.6 rating among Adults 18-49. By comparison, SNF had about 17 million viewers and a 6.1 in the demo during a 20-point blowout win for the Steelers. This is the second time this season The Walking Dead has managed to topple SNF, which typically ranks as the highest-rated show on broadcast TV. So just how big is The Walking Dead? The show is huge among total viewers averaging nearly 19.9 million per episode when including seven days of DVR playback. But what’s truly stunning is the show’s Adults 18-49 rating, the number that matters most to advertisers. That most recent average rating is a 10.3 with DVR. That rating is second to basically nothing on television right now. The closest program delivering those type of ratings was American Idol on Fox on Tuesday (11.3) and Wednesday nights (10.8) in the 2007-08 season.
That was some time ago…