Week One of the NFL season is in the books, and NBC and Fox executives must be thrilled with their ratings. CBS and ESPN execs on the other hand are probably a little disappointed.
NBC's Steelers-Broncos game on Sunday Night Football picked up an 18.0 overnight rating, the highest overnight ever for the network. The previous high was a 17.7, which was drawn by the Vikings-Saints season opener in 2010. That game was a rematch of the NFC Title game just seven months earlier. The game was also the highest rated NFL primetime game since a Broncos-49ers game in December 1997.
Things are also well over on Fox, where the afternoon national window headlined by a 49ers-Packers matchup drew a 17.2 overnight. This isn't the best mark all-time for Fox, but it *is* their best Week One rating of all-time.
However, CBS and ESPN both saw declines in ratings. CBS's decline was minimal, a drop of 2% from last year to a 10.4 overnight in their 1 PM timeslot. ESPN's early Monday Night Football game between the Ravens and Bengals drew a 10.9 overnight, which was down 36% from the 2011 opener of Patriots-Dolphins, and 39% from 2010's Ravens-Jets opener. The early game was still the most watched show on cable, and the second most watched show on all of TV on Monday, behind The Voice on NBC. The late game between the Chargers and Raiders drew a respectable 10.4 overnight, down just 6% from last year's Raiders-Broncos matchup.
What do these ratings tell us? The early Monday night game didn't have a huge market like Boston or New York to pull from like in the prior two years and developed into a blowout, and ratings took a hit as a result. Peyton Manning's return drew the casual fan into the Sunday night game, and despite the lack of Tim Tebow, Denver area fans turned in to watch their team in droves. Also, the casual fan was attracted to the 49ers-Packers matchup, a battle between two of the top NFC teams that delivered on excitement in spades. Given CBS was televising tennis, it was an opportunity for Fox to cater to an America hungry for the NFL to return.