Denizens of both the traditional and emerging pay-TV ecosystems breathed a sigh of relief this week, with Week 10 NFL games producing the biggest audience performance of the season.
For concerned pay-TV operatives, the news contains plenty of caveats, but green shoots, as well.
The Dallas Cowboys’ last-minute come-from-behind win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on FOX late Sunday afternoon averaged 28.9 million viewers, the biggest NFL audience this season. Then, on Sunday night, the Seattle Seahawks' big win over the New England Patriots averaged 22.5 million viewers, the biggest NFL performance so far this year in prime time, the area where the league’s ratings have been hit hardest.
Overall, ratings for Week 10 were still down 6 percent year-over-year. But a major reason for that was the Thursday Night Football contest featuring the 0-9 Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens. (Editor’s note: Former USC quarterback Cody Kessler was 11 for 18 for 91 yards, and with a TD for the Browns, that was plenty to keep FierceCable riveted for the evening. But we digress…)
Discount that expectedly awful ratings performance, and Week 10 viewership was up 18 percent from the comparable week of 2015.
For a league—and its TV partners—experiencing double-digit declines through the first 10 weeks, that’s big news
Of course, matchups matter. Just as the Browns vs. Ravens was an absolute turkey, the matchup of two sets of nationally popular rivals on Sunday stood out in a season in which the league and its broadcast partners haven’t always televised the best games.
Then there was the popular theory that the presidential election—and adjacent ratings upticks on cable news networks—was, in part, causing the ratings problem. With the election finished, pundits were anxious to see if pro football would mount a ratings rally.
“This was a date that all of us had circled on our calendars for a long time,” said Fox Sports research chief Michael Mulvihill, to Variety. “We’ve been saying very consistently that the election was a major factor, probably the biggest factor impacting NFL ratings through the first half of the year.”