NEW YORK -- A major through line for 2016 NFL season has been lagging ratings and consumption, but NFL Network CEO Brian Rolapp says the league is busy addressing that.
During a keynote address at NAB Show New York, Rolapp acknowledged that NFL consumption is down 14 percent this year, but also noted that Thursday Night football consumption has more than doubled in the past few years. Regardless, the NFL is exploring ways to improve the viewer experience, including discussing new ways of approaching ads during the games.
“We have lots of ideas for improving viewership,” said Rolapp, detailing conversations the League is having with its broadcast partners about not just cutting out commercials, but also spreading them out differently.
Rolapp also said that the NFL is exploring ways of speeding up the pace of games by looking at stoppage time, penalties and other things that slow the action.
While addressing its U.S. broadcast focus, the NFL is continuing to pursue ways to expand its audience. Rolapp said the NFL’s international games continue to grow audience -- interestingly, he said that Mexico City has more NFL fans than all but six U.S. markets. In addition, the NFL keeps its eye on streaming audiences. Rolapp admitted that the volume of viewership through partnerships like the NFL’s streaming deal with Twitter is incremental but said it’s important to address that audience while still maintaining its flagship product platform.
“We’re not abandoning television anytime soon,” said Rolapp.
Still, with the presidential election, the NFL, as has been the case historically with other election years, has seen its ratings suffer.
“We’re not overly surprised,” Rolapp said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we finish this season down.”
While the NFL fights to keep its ratings afloat, it can take solace in the fact that ad rates for its broadcasts continue to increase. According to Standard Media Index’s numbers for September, the average 30-second spot among networks showing NFL games in September was $489,193, up 4 percent from the same period last year and up 10 percent from 2014.
Though the live sports struggle has shifted to the NFL, NBC is still mulling over its fairly recently wrapped broadcast of the Summer Olympics in Rio.
Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics and president of operations and strategy for the NBC Sports Group, said NBC and Comcast are still bullish about the Olympics, though viewership was down. During the panel, he described how his company’s tech savvy approach to broadcast has helped cement the Olympics -- which NBC has signed a distribution deal with through the next decade – as a good long-term viewership bet.
“The Olympics, as a franchise on television, is still incredibly strong,” Zenkel said, adding that it will remain that way as long as NBC/Comcast maintains the ability to follow the audience to where it wants to watch.