Ratings Roundup: 2018 CFP Semifinals Captivate 35.8 Million Viewers; NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium Becomes Most-Watched Since 2015

Ratings roundup is a rundown of rating news from the past week and is derived from press releases and reports around the industry. In this week’s edition, the College Football Playoff semifinals capped off ESPN’s activity in 2018, the 2018 NHL Winter Classic drove home the best rating for the event in four years, the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl kicked off ESPN’s ratings in the new year, the 2018 NFL regular season concluded with major networks receiving positive ratings, the NBA Christmas Day extravaganza snagged their best mark in seven years, Premier Boxing Champions on Fox brought in their best number since 2016, and as 2018 came to a close, TSN still remains as the No. 1 specialty network in Canada.

College Football Playoff Semifinals Draws Combined 35.8 Million for Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl
The College Football Playoff Semifinals put an exclamation point on ESPN airing cable’s most-watched telecasts in 2018, as the Capital One Orange Bowl — which Alabama never trailed on their way to a 45-34 win over Oklahoma — earned a Nielsen total live audience of 19,069,000 viewers on ESPN and ESPN2 and the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic – which saw Clemson score 27 unanswered points as they defeated Notre Dame 30-3 – delivered a Nielsen total live audience of 16,809,000 viewers on the same two networks.

The more-than-19 million viewers who watched Alabama advance to their fourth consecutive CFP National Championship results in the fourth largest cable presentation of 2018 and solidified the CFP’s sole position atop the year’s most-watched cable telecasts. The significant audience joins last season’s Semifinals (January 1) and National Championship (January 8) as cable’s four biggest of the year.

The nearly 17 million who watched Clemson earn its third CFP Semifinal victory delivered the sixth largest cable telecast of the year, which combined with ESPN’s Monday Night Football presentation on Nov. 19, results in ESPN airing the six most-watched cable telecasts of 2018.

Both games achieved strong audiences despite fast starts by Alabama and Clemson causing both games to earn their peak audience in the first half. The Orange Bowl peaked at 20,776,000 viewers as the Crimson Tide was up 21-0 and on the cusp of scoring another touchdown which put the Crimson Tide up 28-0 (8:30-9 p.m.). The Cotton Bowl peaked at 18,105,000 viewers as Clemson scored 20 points in the second quarter, including a touchdown in the final seconds to go into the locker room up 23-3 (5:30-6 p.m.).

The more than 19 million that viewed the Alabama victory is on par with the most-watched non-New Year’s Day CFP Semifinals. With its current viewership, the Orange Bowl already experienced a 2% audience increase from the 2015 CFP Semifinal late game and the Cotton Bowl a 7% viewership jump from the same year’s early game, the only other season the two games were CFP Semifinals.

2019 NHL Winter Classic Dazzles TV Audience for Most-Watched in Four Years
NBC Sports’ presentation of the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic across NBC, NBC Sports.com, and the NBC Sports app averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of nearly three million viewers (2.968 million), making it the most-watched Winter Classic in four years and up 20% compared to last year’s game, according to Fast National Data from Nielsen, and digital data from Adobe Analytics.

This year’s game was played at Notre Dame Stadium, home of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team, with the Boston Bruins defeating the host Chicago Blackhawks, 4-2. The sellout crowd of 76,126 was the second-largest ever to attend an NHL game.

The TAD of 2.968 million viewers for yesterday’s game is the best for an NHL regular-season game since the 2015 NHL Winter Classic (3.481 million), which featured the Blackhawks against the Washington Capitals from Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. The 2019 Winter Classic is also up 20% vs. last year’s game between the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres from Citi Field in New York City (2.483 million). The TV-only telecast drew a 1.63 HH rating, up 15% from last year’s game (1.42).

Digitally, Bruins-Blackhawks set Winter Classic records for all major metrics, including uniques (75,963), total minutes (4.7 million), and Average Minute Audience (22,454 viewers), with those figures being up 38%, 51%, and 45%, respectively, vs. the 2018 game.

Locally, Boston delivered a 7.9 rating, best in the nation and the third-best rating ever for the market for a regular-season NHL game on NBC. Following are the Top 10 local market ratings for the 2019 NHL Winter Classic: Boston (7.9), Providence (6.5), Chicago (5.8), Buffalo/Hartford & New Haven/Las Vegas (3.4), Ft. Myers (3.1), Indianapolis (2.8), Richmond-Petersburg (2.6), and Dayton, OH (2.5).

ESPN Starts 2019 on the Right Foot With Record Viewership of the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl
ESPN began 2019 with record-setting audiences, as The Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual featuring Washington vs. Ohio State and the Allstate Sugar Bowl between Texas and Georgia achieved their highest non-CFP Semifinal viewership in the College Football Playoff’s five-year history.

The Rose Bowl Game delivered a Nielsen reported audience of 16,781,000 viewers, up 7% from the 2017 Rose Bowl Game (1/1/2017) and up 24% from the 2016 edition (1/1/16) – both years of the New Year’s Six era the game was not a CFP Semifinal. Overall, the more than 16.7 million fans who watched the Buckeyes’ victory is the largest non-Semifinal New Year’s Six game, overtaking the previously mentioned 2017 Rose Bowl.

The Sugar Bowl earned a Nielsen reported audience of 13,298,000 viewers, up 40% from the 2017 Sugar Bowl (1/1/2017) and a 49% increase from the 2016 game (1/1/16) – also the two years of the New Year’s Six era the game was not a CFP Semifinal.

The PlayStation Fiesta Bowl featuring LSU vs. UCF (1 p.m.) earned 8,471,000 viewers, up 14% from the 2014 Fiesta Bowl (12/31/14), the only other time in the New Year’s Six era which the game hosted the automatic qualifier from the Group of Five. The viewership for the Tigers’ win was flat with last season’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, which was played in the similar New Year’s Day timeslot.

This season’s New Year’s Six will be the most-watched among the years the CFP Semifinals were not played on New Year’s Day, once final Nielsen numbers are reported. Currently, the six games average 13.6 million viewers (ESPN and ESPN2), which is already up 15% from the second year of the CFP (2015-16) and flat with year three (2016-17).

The home market for the winning teams in the Rose Bowl Game, Sugar Bowl, and Fiesta Bowl were also the highest-rated markets, with Columbus, Ohio, delivering the best of the day at a 42.7. The significant rating for Columbus was the best individual market for the Rose Bowl since 2010, except the two seasons in which the game was a CFP Semifinal. Birmingham was the best local market for the entire New Year’s Six.

Major Networks Close Up Shop on the 2018 NFL Regular Season
NBC recently concluded its 13th season of Sunday Night Football, posting a 7% viewership increase from last year, and once again pacing to finish as primetime’s #1 TV show in all key metrics for an unprecedented eighth consecutive year – adding to its record for the most consecutive years atop the charts (since 1950), based on official live plus same day data provided by Nielsen.

Sunday Night Football posted a Total Audience Delivery average of 19.6 million viewers in 2018 – up 7% from last year (18.4 million), according to official national live plus same day data released by Nielsen, and digital data from Adobe Analytics.

The 2018 season was its most dominant ever in average viewership (+35% advantage) and household rating (+28%) compared to primetime’s #2 show. In addition, SNF delivered nine of the 10 most-watched primetime telecasts on any network since September.

NBC’s Football Night in America studio show averaged 7.1 million viewers from 7:30-8:15 p.m. ET – up 4% from last year (6.9 million), and continues its reign as sports’ most-watched weekly studio show for the 13th consecutive year (since FNIA’s 2006 debut season). In addition, the 8-8:23 p.m. ET portion of Football Night in America (including pre-kick coverage), averaged 11.6 million viewers, and a 3.5 rating among Adults 18-49, which would rank No. 4 among regularly-scheduled primetime shows in the demographic.

Sunday Night Football averaged 19.3 million TV viewers in 2018, which topped the #2 primetime show by 35% — marking the most dominant season in SNF history (since 2006 debut), and up from last year’s 29% advantage.

For the first time since 2013 and fourth time (2010 and 2011) in nine seasons, New Orleans was the top-rated SNF market. Milwaukee was the top-rated SNF market last year and in 2012, while Denver ranked #1 for three consecutive seasons from 2014-16…

…ESPN’s Monday Night Football finished the 2018 NFL regular season up 8% year-over-year with an average viewership of 11,647,000 over 17 games (16 weeks).

In addition to the 8% gain over 2017 (10,788,000), MNF also increased 2% vs. 2016 (11,390,000).

2018 MNF Season Highlights:

  • MNF finished the season as the most-watched series on cable for the second straight year.
  • MNF accounted for nine of the top 20 most-watched telecasts on cable in 2018.
  • MNF helped ESPN win the night all 16 Mondays this season, among all networks – broadcast or cable – in households, viewers and all key male and adult demos (18-34, 18-49, 25-54).
  • MNF was the most-watched telecast of the day on 15 of 16 Mondays in households, viewers and all key male and adult demos.
  • MNF’s most-watched game of the season was the Chiefs-Rams thriller on Nov. 19, attracting an audience of 16.7 million viewers. It was the first MNF game played in Los Angeles in 33 years, though originally scheduled for Mexico City.
  • The top 10 MNF metered markets this season include New Orleans (14.4), Norfolk (11.6), Richmond (10.9), Kansas City (10.6), Denver (10.5), Washington D.C. (10.1), Seattle-Tacoma (9.9), San Diego, Albuquerque and Phoenix (9.6)…

… The 2018 regular season for the NFL on Fox averaged an 11.7/24, up +4% over last year (vs. 11.3/23). As for the slate in Week 17, the regional window delivered a 9.9/ww, up +29% over 2017 (vs. 7.7/16). America’s Game of the Week delivered a 13.5/26, up +2% over last year (vs. 13.2/25)…

…According to SportsMediaWatch, CBS finished the NFL season in positive territory for the first time in five years. CBS averaged a 9.5 rating and 16.5 million viewers for NFL coverage during the 2018 season, up 6% in ratings and viewership from last year (9.5, 16.5M), but down 4% in both measures from 2016 (9.9, 17.3M).

This season marked the first time in five years that the NFL on CBS has posted an increase in ratings. The 2013 season increased 4% from 2012.

NBA on Christmas Day Smashes Seven Year Drought
NBA Christmas Day ratings hit a multi-year high on ESPN/ABC. The five-game NBA Christmas Day schedule averaged a 3.0 rating and 5.83 million viewers across ESPN and ABC, up 15% in ratings and 14% in viewership from last year (2.6, 5.10M) and up 30% and 28% respectively from 2016 (2.3, 4.56M). The NBA games faced NFL competition in both of those years.

This year’s Christmas slate ranks as the most-watched since 2011 (6.31M). That year, the holiday doubled as opening day of the lockout-shortened season (6.31M). It tied as the highest rated since 2012 (3.2).

Lakers-Warriors was the top game of the day with a combined 5.3 rating and 10.21 million viewers on ESPN and ABC, up 104% in ratings and 105% in viewership from last year on ABC (Rockets-Thunder: 2.6, 4.98M) and up 563% and 635% respectively from 2016 on ESPN (T’Wolves-Thunder: 0.8, 1.39M) (SMW).

PBC on Fox Delivers Knockout for Best Ratings in Two Years
Fox PBC Fight Nightdelivered a 1.5/3 metered market rating for a thrilling three-fight card, according to Nielsen Media Research. Fox’s best-metered market rating for a PBC event since 2016 (1.6/3). The event was up +88% over Fox’s last PBC event (0.8/2). The top five markets include New Orleans (3.7/6), Atlanta (2.4/5), Kansas City (2.4/4), New York (2.3/5), and Cleveland (2.3/4).

TSN Stands at the Top of Canada’s Specialty Network Ladder
As TSN closed out another year of delivering Canada’s biggest lineup of championship sporting events, the network announced that data from Numeris confirms that TSN remains Canada’s most-watched specialty network in 2018, as the average audience of the network’s five national feeds lead those of its closest competitor by +13%. TSN also leads by +21% and +38% in the key A18-49 and M18-34 demos, respectively.

Average audiences on TSN grew 15% in 2018. Driven by a multitude of marquee properties including the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, CFL on TSN, MLS on TSN, NFL, and more, TSN attracted strong linear audience numbers throughout the year to maintain its hold on the top spot.

A total of 30.8 million unique Canadian viewers watched TSN this year, representing nearly 86% of the Canadian population. TSN also remains the most-trusted source for sports news and information, led by its flagship news program SportsCentre, with more than 1.4 billion hours consumed this calendar year-to-date.

TSN digital platforms also recorded strong increases in 2018, with a 19% increase in video views compared to 2017, and an 84% increase in live streaming, driven by the launch of TSN Direct, the network’s premium live and on-demand subscription video streaming service, which launched just in time for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia.

A total of 25.9 million viewers tuned in for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia on CTV, TSN, and RDS, accounting for 72% of the Canadian population. The tournament’s strong ratings were highlighted by the average audience of 3.9 million viewers who tuned in to TSN, RDS, and CTV for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Final between France and Croatia. The 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia helped make June 2018 the best month ever for TSN digital platforms, with a total of 16 million video starts and 5 million unique visitors across all digital platforms.

Average audiences for the CFL on TSN regular season finished up 4%, reaching 14 million unique Canadian viewers, and up 9% in the key A18-34 demo. The season culminated with the 106th Grey Cup, which was watched by 8.4 million unique Canadian viewers on TSN and RDS.

MLS regular season games were up 23% for the 2018 season on TSN and CTV, and the networks’ extensive coverage of golf’s majors also saw significant audience growth, with The PGA Championship up 29%, The Open Championship up 25%, and The Masters up 12%.

TSN has driven strong audiences with its fan-favourite coverage of the NBA’s hottest team, as Raptors on TSN broadcasts are up 71% for the 2018-19 season thus far over the same time last season, highlighted by the team’s overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors on Nov. 29, which became the most-watched Raptors regular season game in Canadian specialty television history with an average audience of 582,000 viewers.

Additionally, TSN’s wall-to-wall coverage of the NFL in simulcast with CTV2 continues to see significant growth, with Sunday Night Football up 21%, Thursday Night Football up 18%, and Monday Night Football up 13% on the two networks.

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