NFL games among most popular shows of fall

Football fans across America continued to tune their televisions to NFL games in large numbers in 2008. According to Nielsen Media Research, 225 million Americans watched NFL regular-season games in 2008. That's nearly 100 million more than the record number of Americans who voted in the 2008 presidential election (131.2 million).

In addition, a record 13 of the 15 most-watched TV shows among all programming this fall are NFL games (chart below) -- up from 11 of the top 15 shows in fall 2007. Five years ago, in 2003, NFL games accounted for one of the top 15 fall programs. Also this fall, NFL games were the week's most-watched TV program in 15 of the NFL's 17 regular-season weeks.

NFL games were the highest-rated programs locally a record 88 percent of the time -- topping the mark set last season (86 percent). By comparison, NFL games topped local NFL market ratings 73 percent of the time five years ago (in 2003) and 55 percent of the time in 2001.

NFL viewership on broadcast television continued to out-draw network primetime viewership. NFL games on CBS, FOX and NBC averaged 16.6 million viewers -- 89 percent higher than the average primetime viewership among the four major over-the-air networks (8.8 million average on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC). That advantage is roughly even with last year and up from a 56 percent edge five years ago (chart below).

More 2008 NFL TV highlights:

»For the entire TV season, NFL games rank at the top of weekly programs in average viewership with the top two, and three of the top seven programs on network television (chart below). In addition, NFL games and NFL pregame and postgame shows account for the top 10 programs among men 18-49 (chart below).

»2008 NFL national games on NBC, CBS (Sunday national & Thanksgiving) and FOX (Sunday national & Thanksgiving) averaged a 10.1 rating which exceeds playoff broadcast averages for other sports: 2008 NBA Playoffs (3.7 rating) & NBA Finals (9.3 rating) on ABC; 2008 MLB NLCS (4.8 rating) & 2008 World Series (8.4 rating) on FOX.

»FOX's Sunday National Game (4:15 PM ET) was the most-watched weekly program on TV with an average of 22.3 million viewers (chart below).

»CBS' Sunday National Game (4:15 PM ET) was the second-most-watched weekly program on TV with an average of 21.7 million viewers (chart below).

»NBC Sunday Night Football ranked fifth among all primetime shows with an average of 16.8 million viewers (chart below).

»FOX's Dec. 7 Cowboys-Steelers game is the most-watched show of the broadcast season with 25.7 million viewers.

»CBS' Sept. 14 Patriots-Jets game (plus conclusion of Chargers-Broncos) was viewed by 25.2 million fans, making it the most-watched NFL game on a September Sunday since at least 1991. (Prior to 1991, Nielsen Media Research did not regularly measure individual program viewership).

»NBC's Cowboys-Giants game on Dec. 14 was the most-watched Sunday Night Football game ever (23.1 million viewers).

»ESPN's Monday Night Football was the most-watched series on cable with an average of 12.0 million viewers. Monday Night Football accounted for 14 of the 15 most-watched cable programs this fall.

»ESPN's Eagles-Cowboys telecast on Sept. 15 is the most-watched show in cable history with 18.6 million viewers

»NFL Network's eight Thursday and Saturday Night Football games ranked as the top-rated show of the day among all programs on ad-supported cable networks. All 24 of NFL Network's games dating to 2006 have earned cable's top rating for the night.

»NFL Network posted the week's highest average primetime cable rating (2.31) among all cable networks for the week of Dec. 15-21. NFL Network's Ravens-Cowboys telecast on Dec. 20 earned the fourth-highest cable rating (9.22) of any sporting event in 2008.

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