Well, the 2012 NFL regular season is in the books, and as expected, football remains king in the USA. The funny part about this is that despite the NFL thrashing every other program and network in the fall quarter, the overall ratings on broadcast TV (CBS, Fox, NBC) actually decreased to 19.3 million viewers from 19.8 million viewers versus 2011.
Despite that slight ratings drop (which translates to a roughly 2.5% decrease in ratings from 2011 to 2012), the NFL trounced everything in their path. 31 of the Top 32 programs aired in the fall were NFL games, with the one outlier being the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC. Of course, the NFL games aired on Fox and CBS and Thanksgiving crushed the parade, ranking second and fourth overall respectively on the ratings chart.
This past weekend, the NFL actually achieved its ratings high for the season with the Sunday Night Football matchup between the Cowboys and Redskins, which drew a whopping 30.3 million viewers. Seven other games drew at least 25 million viewers, including the aforementioned Thanksgiving games and a Week 1 double dip of Steelers-Broncos (Sunday Night Football) and 49ers-Packers (Fox late afternoon).
The usual teams you'd expect to be involved in the season's highest rated games were there. The Cowboys were involved in four of the six highest rated games of the season (including the top two, both against the Redskins), four games featuring the Super Bowl champion Giants drew at least 24 million viewers, and three games featuring the Steelers drew at least the same amount.
The NFL also destroyed network TV's primetime lineup, but that likely has to do with an overall decline in quality with the programs the networks are putting out rather than the NFL's dominance. The average NFL game on a network in 2012 outdrew the average primetime lineup by 154%. In terms of a sheer viewership standpoint, the NFL drew 19.3 million viewers per game, compared to just 7.6 million for the primetime lineups of the networks. Once again, while the NFL is obliterating the rest of the networks, the network primetime viewership has shrank by 26% since 2002, while the NFL's viewership for network games has risen by 22%. Good news for the NFL, but don't sell the underperformance of the networks short. They're in trouble when you consider the quality of programming being put out there by cable and premium channels like Showtime, HBO, and AMC.
But should the NFL be worried about the ratings dip over the last two years? Ratings are down 3.5% from the high watermark of 20 million viewers in 2010. I think a lot of these people that are tuning out of their disappointing local games are instead turning to RedZone or a local bar where they're not confined to just one game that may not interest them. It's not because of a lack of interest in the league, especially when you consider the huge jumps in weekday NFL Network viewership (45% increase, with a lot of that likely tied to the Time Warner agreement) and digital media visits (up 35%, which includes NFL.com and NFL Mobile visits). And honestly, if a fan is watching RedZone, it's not as if they're watching a reality show about storage centers. They're still throwing money into the coffers of the Shield, and while the networks might not be too thrilled about losing viewership, I'm sure that the league has no issues in cutting out the middleman in situations like that. These days, it seems anything with the NFL Shield turns to gold.