After the revenge of the nerds, the NFL empire has somewhat struck back. Last week, we discussed how CBS was celebrating The Big Bang Theory being “the most watched show on television” from Sept. 19-Dec. 25 (its fall timeframe), but noted NBC objections on how five Sunday Night Football games were not considered in that timeframe. Now that the NFL regular season has wrapped up, NBC is talking about how Sunday Night Football “finishes 2016 season on pace to be TV’s #1 primetime show for record sixth consecutive year.” Which is true? Well, as a certain Jedi might note, that may depend on your point of view. At the very least, it depends on the timeframe you go by.
Both of those releases appear to be factually correct, but that’s because they’re judging different timeframes. NBC is quite right that Sunday Night Football‘s TV-only average of 20.3 million viewers (it rises to 20.5 in total audience delivery with digital viewing factored in) for its entire season (19 broadcasts, including two on Thursdays, as opposed to Thursday Night Football on Sundays) beat all other television, that its live+same day ratings beat TBBT‘s live+seven (20.0 million), and that it substantially beat TBBT‘s live+same day numbers (14.7 million, which is actually fifth, behind NBC Thursday Night Football, NCIS, and CBS Thursday Night Football.)
However, CBS is right that TBBT beat SNF in live+seven for the period of Sept. 19-Dec. 25, which more closely corresponds to the fall scripted TV season. That’s the period while CBS was showing new episodes; their first new episode aired Sept. 19, and their last new episode aired Dec. 15. (The show resumes on Thursday, Jan. 5.) TBBT averaged 19.475 million viewers in live+seven during that span, while SNF averaged 19.439.
NBC’s accomplishment is the more thorough one, to be sure, and it likely means more to advertisers given how much of it is live viewing versus DVR viewing. Still, what’s more interesting than handing out laurels to one side or the other is examining what caused SNF to rise with those extra games factored in. Using data from Sports Media Watch, here are the viewer averages for the SNF games that were outside that Sept. 19-Dec. 25 timeframe.
|NFL Kickoff (Thursday, Sept. 8):||Carolina vs. Denver||25.2 million|
|Week 1 (Sunday, Sept. 11):||New England vs. Arizona||23.1 million|
|Week 2 (Sunday, Sept. 18):||Green Bay vs. Minnesota||22.8 million|
|Week 16 (Sunday, Dec. 25):||Kansas City vs. Denver||21.4 million|
|Week 17 (Sunday, Jan. 1):||Green Bay vs. Detroit||23.8 million|
We don’t have the raw numbers of viewers who tuned in from each market, but four out of those five games involved at least one of the top 10 metered markets for SNF this season in ratings/share; Denver (which topped all markets), Milwaukee (second), and Kansas City (seventh). These games also had some other things going for them compared to your typical mid-season SNF broadcast; the NFL Kickoff capitalized on the pent-up offseason energy and featured a Super Bowl rematch, Week 1 was the first look at the Patriots without suspended quarterback Tom Brady, and Weeks 16 and 17 both had significant playoff implications. The Christmas and New Year’s Day broadcasts performed well also, with both beating the season average. That helps to show why including those games mattered so much in the overall score.
In the end, NBC’s right to celebrate that SNF is on pace to be TV’s most-watched primetime program for a sixth straight year. That would tie ABC’s American Idol (2004-05 through 2010-11) for the record; The Cosby Show and All In The Family managed five years, while Gunsmoke reigned for four years. Including their whole season of broadcasts makes sense, too, especially if we’re discussing the 2016-17 overall title they’re going for. But hey, TBBT has only aired 11 of its season order of 24 episodes so far. It’s certainly not going to pass SNF in live plus same day viewing, but a strong second half might make that overall title interesting. For now, though, football has won the day.