Weekly Ratings: ESPN Finds the End Zone With College Football, ‘MNF’ Finale

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Football dominated last week’s primetime ratings race, with ESPN easily winning among the networks thanks to its College Football Playoff semifinals — even if both games tumbled in the event’s second year — and a season-high total-viewer count for the finale of “Monday Night Football.” NBC, meanwhile, stayed on top in demos on the broadcast side as “Sunday Night Football” towered over the field as it ended its season.

According to Nielsen “live plus same-day” estimates for the Dec. 28-Jan. 3 frame, ESPN averaged a 2.6 rating in adults 18-49 to easily best NBC (1.8), CBS (1.2), ABC (1.0) and Fox (0.9). The only other network to log a higher weekly average in the past two months has been NBC during Thanksgiving week (3.2), when it aired two primetime NFL contests. NBC, meanwhile, was the top broadcaster in the demo for the 14th time in 15 weeks this television season.

ESPN also scored a victory in total viewers, led by the week’s No. 2 primetime program: the College Football Playoff between Michigan State and Alabama (18.55 million). While a huge audience for sure, the event lost nearly 10 million viewers vs. last year by scheduling the games on New Year’s Eve instead of New Year’s Day. Earlier in the day on New Year’s Eve, the Clemson-Oklahoma matchup, which began at a time when many were still at work (4:10 p.m. ET), settled for 15.46 million.

Other ESPN bowl games among the week’s 10 most-watched primetime programs were the Sugar Bowl on Friday between Oklahoma State and Mississippi (8.94 million) and the Alamo Bowl on Saturday between TCU and Oregon (7.41 million).

“Monday Night Football,” which ended its season with a pivotal matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos, matched its second best demo rating in 10 weeks (4.8) while setting a season high in total viewers (15.81 million). For the season, the long-running franchise was down 3% in viewership vs. the previous year (12.90 million vs. 13.35 million).

Over at NBC, “Sunday Night Football” finished its 10th season strong with a matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers (7.9/23 in 18-49, 24.29 million viewers overall) that decided the NFC North division. It was the week’s No. 1 program in all categories and helped the franchise cap its most-watched season to date. In fact, the average audience of 22.5 million in 2015 for “SNF” (up 6% from 21.3 million in 2014) is the largest for an NFL primetime package since ABC’s “Monday Night Football” in 1996.

“Sunday Night Football” has now been the most-watched primetime program for a fifth straight season — matching the feat set by NBC’s “The Cosby Show” in the ’90s and CBS’ “All in the Family” in the ’70s. Only Fox’s “American Idol,” with six seasons, has enjoyed a longer winning streak.

Among the few scripted originals on the broadcast networks last week were a pair of Fox comedy premieres on Sunday, but neither fared well. Live-action “Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life” (1.2/3 in 18-49, 2.62 million viewers overall) was able to hold just 60% of its lead-in from “The Simpsons” (2.0/6 in 18-49, 4.40 million viewers overall), and Seth MacFarlane animated comedy “Bordertown” (1.1/3 in 18-49, 2.34 million viewers overall) held only a little more of its lead-in from “Family Guy” (1.7/5 in 18-49, 3.26 million viewers overall). Both new shows should get more sampling this week as they follow an NFL playoff game on the network.

Sunday also saw the second-season premiere of ABC’s musical comedy “Galavant,” which could only muster a 0.9/2 in 18-49 and 3.20 million viewers overall. It premiered with a 2.0 in the demo a year ago, but it averaged a 1.0 for its final two episodes; it’s again airing for just a short time, keeping the timeslot warm for “Once Upon a Time,” which returns in March.

CBS, third for the week in demos and second in total viewers, had a decently sized NFL overrun on Sunday, which helped spike the numbers for “60 Minutes” (2.8/8 in 18-49, 15.36 million viewers overall) and “Undercover Boss” (1.6/4 in 18-49, 7.99 million viewers overall). The network won Tuesday in total viewers with a repeat “NCIS” (10.37 million), the week’s most-watched scripted program, and annual special “The Kennedy Center Honors” (7.55 million), which was down from 9.25 million a year ago.

ABC was again the dominant choice for the countdown festivities on New Year’s Eve, more than doubling runner-up NBC’s programming in total viewers (9.8 million vs. 4.4 million) and nearly tripling it in adults 18-49 (2.8 vs. 1.0). The 10-11 p.m. portion of “Dick Clark’s Primetime New Year’s Rockin’ Eve wit Ryan Seacrest 2016” grew for the second straight year in total viewers (13.0 million vs. 12.9 million) while holding even in adults 18-49 (3.9/14). Finals numbers have yet to be released by Nielsen for the late-night portion of coverage, but ABC dominated in the prelims on a night when sister net ESPN was airing college football.

PBS’ “Downton Abbey” opened its sixth and final season with an audience of roughly 9.9 million viewers, according to the network. This was just a bit below the 10.1 million (2015) and 10.2 million (2014) logged the prior two years by the British period drama, which ranks as the pubcaster’s most popular series ever.

CNN beat out Fox News in the key news demo of adults 25-54 for a third straight week, something it hasn’t done since early 2008. The network was boosted over the holiday weekend by a good premiere performance for CNN Original Films documentary “Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine” (1.16 million viewers), which was the No. 1 cable news program on Sunday night. Fox News remained dominant for the week in total viewers (1.15 million to 680,000 million for CNN).


(Dec. 28, 2015-Jan. 3, 2016; live plus same-day)

Adults 18-49 (rating/share)
ESPN ……………….  2.6/8
NBC …………………  1.8/6
CBS ………………….  1.2/4
ABC …………………. 1.0/3
Fox …………………..  0.9.3
UNI ………………….  0.7/2
TEL ………………….  0.6/2
TBS ………………….  0.6/2
USA …………………  0.5/2
DISC ………………..  0.5/2

Total Viewers (in millions)
ESPN ………………..  9.05
CBS …………………..  6.72
NBC …………………   6.66
ABC ………………….  4.14
Fox …………………..  2.84
UNI ………………….  1.85
TBS ………………….  1.70
HGTV ………………  1.62
TEL ………………….  1.56
CW …………………..  1.08

(Dec. 28, 2015-Jan. 3, 2016; live plus same-day)

Adults 18-49 (rating/share)
1.  Sunday Night Football: Minnesota-Green Bay (NBC), 7.9/23
2.  College Football Playoff-Thursday: Michigan State-Alabama (ESPN), 5.5/22
3.  Monday Night Football: Cincinnati-Denver (ESPN), 4.8/16
4.  New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, Part 2-10 p.m. (ABC), 3.9/14
5.  60 Minutes (CBS), 2.8/8
6.  Sugar Bowl-Friday: Mississippi-Oklahoma State (ESPN), 2.6/8
7.  New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, Part 1-8 p.m. (ABC), 2.3/9
8.  Alamo Bowl-Saturday: Oregon-TCU (ESPN), 2.0/8
8.  The Simpsons (Fox), 2.0/6
10.  Family Guy (Fox), 1.7/5
11.  Texas Bowl: LSU-Texas Tech (ESPN), 1.6/5
11.  Undercover Boss (CBS), 1.6/4
13.  Love & Hip-Hop (VH1), 1.5/4
13.  Music City Bowl-Wednesday: Texas A&M-Louisville (ESPN), 1.5/4
15.  Real Housewives of Atlanta (Bravo), 1.4/4
16.  Gold Rush (Discovery), 1.3/4
17.  WWE Raw (USA), 1.2/4
17.  NCIS-r (CBS), 1.2/4
17.  Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life (Fox), 1.2/3
17.  Keeping Up With the Kardashians (E!), 1.2/3

Total Viewers (in millions)
1.  Sunday Night Football: Minnesota-Green Bay (NBC), 24.29
2.  College Football Playoff-Thursday: Michigan State-Alabama (ESPN), 18.55
3.  Monday Night Football: Cincinnati-Denver (ESPN), 15.81
4.  New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, Part 2-10 p.m. (ABC), 13.01
5.  NCIS-r (CBS), 10.37
6.  Sugar Bowl-Friday: Mississippi-Oklahoma State (ESPN), 8.94
7.  New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, Part 1-8 p.m. (ABC), 8.13
8.  Undercover Boss (CBS), 7.99
9.  Kennedy Center Honors (CBS), 7.55
10.  Alamo Bowl-Saturday: Oregon-TCU (ESPN), 7.41
11.  NCIS-r (CBS), 6.95
12.  Scorpion-r (CBS), 6.45
13.  The Big Bang Theory-r (CBS), 6.02
14.  NCIS: Los Angeles-r (CBS), 6.00
15.  America’s Funniest Home Videos (ABC), 5.94
16.  Hawaii Five-0, 9 p.m.-r (CBS), 5.88
17.  Hawaii Five-0, 10 p.m.-r (CBS), 5.60
18.  Music City Bowl-Wednesday: Texas A&M-Louisville (ESPN), 5.42
19.  20/20 (CBS), 5.37
20.  Supergirl-r (CBS), 5.20

Source: Nielsen

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