NFL Regular-Season Viewing Down 9%, but Ad Revs Up

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NEW YORK – Average TV viewership of the NFL’s regular season games dropped 9 percent versus the same period a year ago, Nielsen reports. 

An average of 14.9 million viewers watched games this year through week 16 of the season. Last year, that number was 16.3 million.

Nielsen also reports “Sunday Night Football” reached 18.2 million average viewers – easily defeating CBS/NFL Network’s “Thursday Night Football,” which reaches 14.1 million. 

NBC also claims, for now – the 10th year in a row – the highest 18-49 rating for the fall TV period with a Nielsen 6.1 for live programming plus-same day viewing. CBS/NFLN’s "Thursday Night Football" came in at 4.5, while NBC/NFLN’s "Thursday Night Football" is at 4.1; followed by AMC’s "The Walking Dead" at 3.8, and ESPN’s "Monday Night Football" at 3.7.

At the same time, NFL programming is up 16 percent to $3.7 billion in national TV advertising revenues across all networks, according to

To give some perspective, CNN has reported that ratings at the four major networks are down an average of 8 percent in prime time: NBC is down 4 percent; CBS is down 6 percent; ABC is down 11percent; and Fox's prime time viewership dropped 20 percent through the first month of the new TV season, according to Nielsen data. And those numbers are down despite the inclusion of live sporting events.

By calculating the networks' ratings excluding NFL games, their ratings declines would be even more pronounced relative to NFL games. So comparatively, NFL ratings are still stronger than other programming offered by the networks.