Although the numbers have improved somewhat since Nielsen’s week three prognosis for NFL ratings, the audience metric firm says that ratings are still down from the 2016 season.
The firm says that an average of 15 million people are watching games through the first six weeks this year, down 7.5% from the average 16.2 million people that watched through week 6 last season. Those numbers represent an improvement over Nielsen’s analysis after three weeks into the season, when it said viewership was down 11%.
However, Monday Night Football on ESPN is averaging 11.2 million viewers, up 6% from where it was after week 6 of last season.
When the 2017-2018 NFL season opened with slightly lower viewership, coverage of Hurricane Irma was cited as a possible reason for the ratings erosion, much like the 2016 presidential election affected NFL viewership.
But President Donald Trump has continued to criticize NFL owners and players over National Anthem protests against police brutality and racial inequality, which began last season with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and has claimed the protests could be causing the ratings decline.
Regardless of the reason for the viewership struggles with the NFL, analysts are warning investors that earnings season for NFL broadcast partners including CBS could be impacted. Analyst firm Credit Suisse in particular thinks that CBS could see a downturn in advertising revenue.
"We expect third-quarter network advertising to decline 3% (previously +1%), driven by soft ratings for both the summer schedule and for the start of the NFL season," wrote Credit Suisse. "With only one of the three content licensing deals we expected for the second half announced in third quarter, we also expect content licensing revenue growth to be skewed to the fourth quarter."
The firm recently warned that 21st Century Fox could be in line for some financial fallout due to the NFL’s ratings.