College Football Ratings Roundup: SEC on CBS Is Highest Rated, ABC’s Saturday Night Football Is Most Watched

Ratings roundup is a rundown of ratings news from the past week and is derived from press releases and reports around the industry. This edition focuses on the year in college football, as SEC on CBS was the highest rated package for the eighth consecutive year, while ABC’s Saturday Night Football took to total audience crown. Also in this edition, the most-watched games of the season, Fox’s big Conference Championship Week, ESPN record streaming numbers, and more. 

sec_cbs_0SEC on CBS Takes Ratings Crown for Eighth Straight Year
For the eighth consecutive year the SEC ON CBS was the highest-rated regular season college football package on any network. CBS Sports’ national coverage of SEC football averaged a national household rating/share of 3.4/8 topping all other networks.  The 2016 SEC ON CBS season averaged more viewers than any college football network package with an average of 5.7 million viewers. The 17-game SEC ON CBS slate delivered four of the Top 10 most-watched games of the regular-season.


ABC’s Saturday Night Football Takes Most-Watched Title 
ABC’s Saturday Night Football was the most-watched college football franchise on any network this season, delivering an average total live audience of 6,087,000 viewers. Saturday Night Football’s TV audience (5,996,000 viewers) is up 10% from last season’s Saturday Night Football package and the streaming average audience is up 81% (91,000 viewers). SNF was also the highest-rated franchise across all networks in all key demos: males 18-34, 18-49, and 25-54 and persons 18-34, 18-49, and 25-54.

Across all games and timeslots, ABC generated a total live audience of 5,175,000 viewers per game (44 games), up 4% per game from last season (42 games). The streaming average minute audience for games televised on ABC grew by 53% this season.

Most Watched Games of the Year
Michigan at Ohio State on ABC (November 26) was by far the most-watched game of the season on any network, generating a total live audience of 17,120,000 viewers, setting both television and streaming records in the process. ABC’s TV audience (16,841,000 viewers) is the highest for a regular season college football noon ET kickoff across all networks on record and ABC’s second most-viewed game out of 793 game windows, dating back to 1991. ESPN’s stream had an average minute audience of 279,000 viewers with a total of 1,273,000 unique viewers watching 69,661,000 minutes, ESPN’s most-streamed regular season college football game ever in all three metrics.

The most-watched games of the year on television were as follows:
1: 16,841,000 for Michigan at Ohio State on Nov. 26, 2016 on ABC
2: 11,093,000 for Alabama vs. Florida on Dec. 3, 2016 on CBS
3: 10,945,000 for Notre Dame at Texas on Sept. 4, 2016 on ABC
4: 10,385,000 for Alabama at LSU on Nov. 5, 2016 on CBS
5: 9,286,000 for Louisville at Clemson on Oct. 1, 2016 on ABC
6: 9,189,000 for Wisconsin at Penn State on Dec. 3, 2016 on FOX
7: 8,964,000 for Ohio State at Wisconsin on Oct. 15, 2016 on ABC
8: 8,455,000 for Texas A&M at Alabama on Oct. 22, 2016 on CBS
9: 8,354,000 for Ole Miss vs. Florida State on Sept. 5, 2016 on ESPN

SEC Championship Is Top Conference Championship Game
The SEC Championship on December 3 was the highest-rated and most-watched Conference Championship game – as it has been every year since 2007 – averaging 11.1 million viewers and a 6.6/15 HH rating/share. Despite the big rating, the Alabama/Florida was down 15% in ratings and 13% in viewership from a 7.8 and 12.8 million the past two years, and the lowest marks for the SEC title game since Auburn/South Carolina in 2010 (6.0, 10.1M), according SMW. Since hitting a 9.8 in 2012, ratings have fallen or flattened in four straight years.

Fox Sports Scores During Conference Championship Week
FOX Sports recorded solid viewership numbers during college football’s conference championship week, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 2-3 on the FOX broadcast network featuring the Pac-12 and Big Ten Championship Games. 

On Friday night, Washington’s lopsided 40-10 win over Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship Game recorded a 3.4 rating with 5.671 million viewers. Friday night marked the second most-watched Pac-12 Championship Game ever, behind the 2014 game on FOX, which drew 5.997 million for Arizona vs. Oregon. The 2016 Pac-12 Championship Game posted a viewership increase of +120% over last year’s game (2.552 million), which was televised by ESPN on a Saturday night.

Saturday night’s Big Ten Championship Game, in which Penn State came from behind to defeat Wisconsin, 38-31, posted a 5.3 rating with 9.198 million viewers. Saturday night’s audience is +72% higher than viewership of that night’s ACC title game, which aired in the same time slot on ABC. According to SMW, the game was down 7% in ratings and 6% in viewership from Michigan State/Iowa last year (5.7, 9.8M) but up 51% and 50% respectively from Ohio State/Wisconsin in 2014 (3.5, 6.2M).

Also on Saturday, Oklahoma defeated Oklahoma State, 38-20, to claim the Big 12 title in “Bedlam,” drawing a 3.1 rating and 4.817 million viewers, which is the second most-watched regular-season college football game on FOX this season.

On FOX Sports GO, the Big Ten Championship Game attracted 171,803 unique streamers and 11,556,470 minutes streamed, while the Pac-12 Championship drew 132,462 unique streamers and 8,892,591 minutes streamed, and Bedlam brought in 100,182 unique streamers and 6,606,981 minutes streamed.

ABC’s ACC Championship Game Down From 2015
Saturday’s ACC Championship Game on ABC – featuring Clemson/Virginia Tech – earned a 3.3 final rating and 5.3 million viewers, down 20% in ratings and a third in viewership from Clemson/North Carolina last year (4.1, 7.9M) and the lowest rated and least-watched ACC title game since the event last aired on cable in 2012 (1.2, 2.0M). (SMW)

ESPN Streams More Than 100 Billion Minutes of College Football
More than 179,000,000 fans (not including week 14 numbers) watched more than 100 billion minutes of college football games on ESPN’s Nielsen-rated television networks (ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN Deportes) and ESPN games were streamed on 15,128,000 unique devices during the 2016 college football regular season, an increase in fans watching college football games on ESPN’s TV networks and unique devices streaming ESPN college football games from the 2015 college football regular season. The more than 15 million unique devices sets a new ESPN college football regular season record, surpassing last year’s then-record setting year by more than 17%. The 100 billion minutes watched by fans on ESPN’s networks this season is more than 2.3x (Includes complete season data) as much as than all other nationally rated television networks combined(TV only data for CBS, NBC, FOX, FS1)

ESPN’s streaming average minute audience was up 31% per game compared to the last season for games on ESPN’s Nielsen-rated networks.  Across all networks, ESPN streaming average minute audience was up 24%, unique devices up 19% and minutes up 24%, per game.

Led by Michigan-Ohio State and along with the previously mentioned Rebels-Seminoles and Fighting Irish-Longhorn games, ESPN streamed its four most-watched regular season games ever this season and eight of the 10 most ever. ESPN’s best avg. minute audience games were as follows:
1: 279,000 for Michigan at Ohio State on Nov. 26, 2016
2: 231,000 for Ole Miss vs. Florida State on Sept. 5, 2016
3: 200,000 for Louisville at Clemson on Oct. 1, 2016
4: 194,000 for Notre Dame at Texas on Sept. 4, 2016

In addition to the Rebels-Seminoles Monday Night record, ESPN set new streaming highs this season for Thursday(Appalachian State at Tennessee and Louisville at Houston) and Friday (Stanford at Washington) games.

Including the record-setting opening week, ESPN saw its five most streamed college football regular season weeks ever this season during Week 1 (3,874,000), Week 13 (3,004,000), Week 3 (2,780,000), Week 5 (2,763,000), and Week 12 (2,496,000).

Additional ESPN, ABC Highlights
ESPN’s networks had its best opening weekend ever, reaching more than 81,000,000 fans (Sept. 1-5), which included airing the most-watched kickoff weekend game across all networks dating back to at least 1991. Notre Dame at Texas (Sept. 4) delivered a total live audience of 11,139,000 average viewers, including an ABC TV audience of 10,945,000 viewers and a streaming average audience of 194,000 viewers, at the time, setting an ESPN regular season college football streaming record.Ole Miss vs. Florida State (Sept. 5) delivered a total live audience of 8,585,000 viewers, which included a then-record setting streaming average minute audience of 231,000 viewers. Combined with the Fighting Irish-Longhorn audience from the night prior, ESPN set new high water marks for most-streamed regular season games in consecutive nights – only to be broken once again by the Michigan-Ohio State game. This season’s opening week was the most-streamed college football regular season week ever with 3,874,000 unique devices. ABC (Sept. 3 and Sept. 4) and ESPN (Sept. 5) combined to win the night, making it the most-watched prime time network on three consecutive nights.  

ABC and ESPN combined to be the most-watched network in prime time nine weeks of the college football season across all major demos (males 18-34, 18-49, and 25-54 and persons 18-34, 18-49, and 25-54).

For the 15th consecutive year, Birmingham was the No. 1 local market for games that aired on ESPN.  Combining the rating for games on ESPN and ABC, Birmingham remains the No. 1 local market with Columbus No. 2. The complete Top 15 markets:

1: 7.4, Birmingham
2: 6.7, Columbus
3: 4.9, Dayton
4: 4.7, Greenville
5: 3.9, Cleveland
6: 3.8, Knoxville
7: 3.7, Nashville
8: 3.6, Detroit
9: 3.6, Oklahoma City
10: 3.6, Atlanta
11: 3.5, Louisville
12: 3.4, Tulsa
13: 3.4, New Orleans
14: 3.3, Austin
15: 3.2, Memphis 

CFB Ratings Odds and Ends
Last Friday’s MAC Championship Game on ESPN2 – featuring Western Michigan/Ohio – earned 1.4 million viewers, up 31% from Bowling Green/Northern Illinois last year (1.0M) and the most-watched MAC title game since Bowling Green/Northern Illinois in 2013 (1.9M). (SMW)

The Temple/Navy American Athletic title game had a 1.4 and 2.1 million — down 22% in ratings and 16% in viewership from Houston/Temple last year (1.8, 2.5M). (SMW)

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