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HomeentertainmentTV Ratings: NFL Delivers Much Needed Boost to Broadcasters on Opening Weekend

TV Ratings: NFL Delivers Much Needed Boost to Broadcasters on Opening Weekend

The opening week of the season pulls in an audience on par with last season’s kickoff.

Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots

Jalen Hurts (1) of the Philadelphia Eagles avoids a New England Patriots tackler on Sept. 10, 2023. Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The biggest game(s) on linear TV returned over the weekend, with the NFL opening its season to big audiences.

Thursday’s season kickoff NBC and a full slate of games on Sunday delivered viewership on par with the start of the 2022 season. The six broadcast windows on Thursday and Sunday averaged about 17.6 million viewers, a touch lower than the 18 million for the comparable games last year.

Thursday’s kickoff game on NBC (24.75 million viewers), CBS’ late afternoon Sunday matchup (21.35 million and NBC’s Sunday Night Football (20.18 million) all topped 20 million viewers, the first time that’s happened on the opening weekend since 2019. Both of Fox’s Sunday games drew smaller audiences than week one last year, however, as did the 1 p.m. ET kickoff on CBS. (Ratings for the ABC-ESPN-ESPN2 telecast of Monday Night Football are due later Tuesday.)

The opening game scored a big year to year improvement, growing its TV audience by 24 percent vs. last year’s game. Thursday’s telecast had a cross-platform audience of 27.5 million, according to Nielsen and first-party figures from NBC Sports, up almost 24 percent over last year.

The streaming audience on Peacock and NBC Sports and NFL digital platforms was the second-largest ever for an NBC NFL game, including three of the network’s last four Super Bowl telecasts (it trails only Super Bowl LVI in 2022).

On Sunday, CBS’ late afternoon game (the Philadelphia Eagles’ 25-20 win over the New England Patriots for most of the country) drew the biggest week one audience for the network since 2015. It was up 28 percent over the same window last season.

Fox aired two not very competitive games for its doubleheader — 49ers-Steelers for 75 percent of the country in the early window and Packers-Bears for 84 percent of the U.S. in the late afternoon — which likely contributed to the lower numbers than last year’s opening weekend. The early game averaged 10.19 million viewers, and the late contest came in at 16.27 million. CBS’ early game drew 12.82 million.

Sunday Night Football clocked in at 20.18 million viewers for the Dallas Cowboys’ 40-0 shutout of the New York Giants on NBC. Streaming added 1.8 million more viewers, per NBC Sports, which had its best two-game opening weekend average (24.9 million across all platforms) in eight years.

The late games also had a halo effect in primetime for CBS and Fox. A 60 Minutes rerun on CBS brought in 8.36 million viewers, well above its summer average, and Big Brother (3.74 million viewers, 0.8 rating among adults 18-49) also beat its usual Sunday numbers. The season premiere of The Masked Singer on Fox drew 3.98 million viewers and a 0.9 rating in adults 18-49, above its same-day averages for last season.

The big audiences are a welcome piece of good news for the broadcast networks, who are going into the 2023-24 season without most of their scripted series due to ongoing strikes by writers and actors seeking better pay and residuals, streaming data transparency and protections against artificial intelligence (among other issues) from the networks’ parent companies. Broadcasters have patched together schedules heavily reliant on unscripted shows and acquisitions; whether audiences come to them in the next few weeks is very much an open question.

The NFL, however, is as sure a bet as there is in the current TV landscape, and the league delivered in week one.

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