The NFL regular season is finally back to breathe some life into linear television.
Audiences were raring to go for the Thursday night kickoff game, delivering a huge audience for NBC’s telecast of the Detroit Lions victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. The game averaged 27.5M viewers to rank as the largest NFL kickoff game audience since 2015, up 24% over last year.
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The network followed it up with another strong audience for Sunday night’s matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants. That Sunday Night Football broadcast drew 21.8M viewers, which is down a few million from last year’s audience of around 24M. Still, it was a successful opening weekend for NBC, which touted a 7% overall lift in viewership across its two-game kickoff weekend versus last year.
The winner of the week, however, appears to be CBS’ late Sunday afternoon Eagles vs. Patriots matchup, which was up 28% over the same window last season. The 21.4M viewers delivered the biggest Week 1 audience for the network since 2015.
ABC is also taking home a win for its Week 1 Monday Night Football audience. The Jets vs. Bills brought in 10M viewers, which is up significantly from the 8M who tuned in for the Week 1 MNF game last season — though that might also have something to do with Aaron Rodgers sustaining a season-ending injury within minutes of the first quarter.
When factoring in viewership on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN+ and ESPN Deportes, the audience for the Jets vs. Bills game came in at 22.64M viewers, which up 14% from last year’s opener to become the most-watched MNF game ever for the combined networks.
That leaves three additional games — both of Fox’s Sunday matchups, as well as CBS’ early kickoff. All three drew much smaller audiences than Week 1 last year, though all were still above 10M.
Even with some deflated audiences, the networks are surely excited to have pro football back on their schedules. After a dry summer full of reruns, all the broadcasters are entering the 2023-24 TV season without nearly any scripted content due to the ongoing writers and actors strikes, which have just hit days 134 and 61, respectively. And it’s not like ratings were looking that great before the strikes, either. Declining linear ratings over the past several years were already pushing networks toward live sports and reality series. It seems like, at least for now, the NFL will continue to be a boon for linear TV.
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