ESPN, NFL Network Hit Fall Highs in Big Week for Football

NBC stays on top in 18-49 despite blah game; CBS prevails in adults 25-54 with 'Big Bang,' 'NCIS'

Sunday Night Football Ratings Cowboys Bears
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

NBC kept the momentum going last week, winning the primetime ratings race among young adults despite a season low for “Sunday Night Football.”

The Peacock’s music contest “The Voice” won its hours in adults 18-49 on Monday and Tuesday while football still ruled in primetime to pace the net to its 11th victory in 12 weeks this season (including ties). CBS, behind “The Big Bang Theory” and a strong Tuesday, tied NBC in adults 25-54 while winning for the 10th time this fall in total viewers.

It was a big week overall for football as three games ranked among the top 10 programs in 18-49, according to Nielsen, led for the first time this season by ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” The cable net’s matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears (pictured) delivered the franchise’s best numbers of the season (5.7/15 in 18-49, 16.19m), ranking No. 1 in 18-49 for the week and No. 4 in total viewers.

NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” on the other hand, was a lackluster game without significant meaning in the playoff race (Pittsburgh Steelers-Cincinnati Bengals), and it drew its smallest 18-49 rating of the fall (5.6/15). Still, that was good enough for a close No. 2 finish among all primetime programs, and it ranked third in total viewers (16.43 million).

NFL Network wrapped its highest-rated season of “Thursday Night Football” with a fall-best 3.3/9 in 18-49 (ninth for the week among primetime programs) and 8.94 million total viewers; its only two games to rate higher this football season (Patriots-Jets and Chiefs-Eagles) came in September before the start of the TV season.

Overall, according to Nielsen, NBC led the week of Dec. 9-15 in adults 18-49 with a 2.2 rating/6 share, followed by CBS and Fox (both 2.0/6), ABC (1.5/4) and Univision (1.0/3). CBS and NBC tied for the adults 25-54 lead (2.7), and the Eye won easily in total viewers (9.3 million to 7.5 million for runner-up NBC).

NBC did most of its damage on Sunday with football and Monday with “The Voice” and the season premiere of “The Sing-Off,” which was up from its most recent premiere in 2011 (when it kicked off a night and thus didn’t have a “Voice” lead-in). It also had a solid Tuesday, including “Chicago Fire” at 10 (2.2 in 18-49).

At CBS, the “Survivor” finale on Sunday (2.6/7 in 18-49, 10.19m) drew the show’s lowest closing 18-49 score to date, though it was up a smidge in total viewers from last spring’s edition.

The net overall had 13 of the week’s top 20 primetime programs in total viewers, led by “NCIS” (19.30 million) and “The Big Bang Theory” (17.68 million), the latter of which was also the frame’s No. 1 entertainment series in 18-49 (5.1/16). Also scoring was Tuesday special “Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show” (3.4/10 in 18-49, 9.72m), the night’s top program in the demo.

Football was also a big reason why Fox tied with CBS for second in adults 18-49. The net’s late-afternoon window, highlighted by the game between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, was the week’s most-watched program with nearly 28 million viewers, and peaked with more than 30 million around 7:40 p.m. ET, helping “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and the net’s other animated comedies draw their best numbers in 11 months.

Earlier in the week for the net, Monday rookie “Almost Human” edged up (1.8) while “Sleepy Hollow” held steady (2.2) with its fall finale.

ABC highlights included a four-week high for Tuesday comedy “The Goldbergs” and the best numbers since October for the fall finales of “Grey’s Anatomy” (2.7 in 18-49) and “Scandal” (3.2). The latter stood as the week’s No. 1 drama in 18-49 and remains the season’s biggest year-over-year gainer for returning shows.

On the downside, “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” (2.1 in 18-49) took a tumble from its previous original (2.6), when it didn’t have to face CBS juggernaut “NCIS.” Also, “Once Upon a Time” matched its low with its final episode until March (1.9 in 18-49).

CW had a pretty quiet week outside solid perfs from “Arrow” on Wednesday (1.1/3 in 18-49, 3.02m) and “The Vampire Diaries” on Thursday (1.1/3 in 18-49, 2.44m). Friday’s “Carrie Diaries” and “Nikita” combined for a paltry 0.2 rating in 18-49 and less than 700,000 viewers overall.

In cable, the “Duck Dynasty Christmas Special” scored big on Wednesday (3.5/10 in 18-49, 8.88m) and FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” (2.8/7 in 18-49, 5.17m) delivered its highest ratings to date for a season finale. Both shows ranked among the week’s top 20 television programs in 18-49.


Adults 18-49 (rating/share)

NBC             2.2/6
CBS              2.0/6
Fox              2.0/6
ABC             1.5/4
UNI              1.0/3
TEL              0.6/2
CW               0.5/1

Total Viewers

CBS             9.32 million
NBC            7.51 million
Fox              6.12 million
ABC             5.62 million
UNI             2.63 million
TEL             1.40 million
CW              1.30 million

(Live plus same-day)

Adults 18-49
1.  Monday Night Football (ESPN), 5.7/15
2.  Sunday Night Football (NBC), 5.6/15
3.  The Big Bang Theory (CBS), 5.1/16
4.  Modern Family (ABC), 3.5/10
4.  The Voice-Monday (NBC), 3.5/10
4.  Duck Dynasty (A&E), 3.5/10
4.  The Simpsons (Fox), 2.5/9
8.  Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show (CBS), 3.4/10
9.  Thursday Night Football (NFLN), 3.3/9
10.  Scandal (ABC), 3.2/9
11.  The Voice-Tuesday (NBC), 3.1/9
12.  Family Guy (Fox), 3.0/8
13.  NCIS (CBS), 2.9/9
14.  Sons of Anarchy (FX), 2.8/7
15.  Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), 2.7/7
16.  The Millers (CBS), 2.6/8
16.  Survivor finale-Sunday (CBS), 2.6/7
18.  Survivor (CBS), 2.5/8
19.  NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS), 2.4/7
19.  Criminal Minds (CBS), 2.4/7
19.  The Sing-Off (NBC), 2.4/6
19.  Bob’s Burgers (Fox), 2.4/6
19.  American Dad (Fox), 2.4/6

Total Viewers (in millions)
1.  NFL Thursday Special (NBC), 19.06
2.  Sound of Music Live (NBC), 18.62
3.  The Big Bang Theory (CBS), 17.75
4.  Monday Night Football (ESPN), 15.50
5.  Big Ten Championship Game (Fox), 13.90
6.  NCIS (CBS), 12.59
7.  The Voice-Tuesday (NBC), 12.14
8.  The Voice-Monday (NBC), 12.03
9.  The Blacklist (NBC), 11.67
10.  60 Minutes (CBS), 11.56
11.  Survivor (CBS), 10.63
12.  The Mentalist (CBS), 9.97
13.  Christmas in Rockefeller Center (NBC), 9.74
14.  NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS), 9.62
15.  Modern Family (ABC), 9.47
16.  The Millers (CBS), 9.23
17.  The Amazing Race (CBS), 9.21
18.  Mike & Molly (CBS), 8.71
19.  Person of Interest (CBS), 8.64
20.  Two and a Half Men (CBS), 8.48