UPDATE, 5:19 PM: The Green Bay Packers’ victory over the Chicago Bears last night on Thursday Night Football marked the second win in a row for the Wisconsin team. But the season opener of TNF on CBS and the NFL Network also saw another viewership decline for the broadcaster and the league.
Having dropped 13% in the early metered market results from the 2016 opener, the final numbers proved a bit an improvement in an already gridiron-ratings-challenged environment. In the end a total of 14.6 million total viewers watched the weather-delayed game on the House of Moonves and the league’s own channel last night. Which means the 2017 TNF opener dipped just more than 5% from the 2016 opener’s viewership.
Unlike last year, the first of the five TNF games CBS is showing this season will also be shown on Amazon Prime Video. About 488,000 viewers took a look at the Packers 35-14 thrashing of the Bears on the Jeff Besos-owned streamer, plus CBS and NFL digital platforms. That pumps last night’s total viewership to 15.1 million domestically.
As NFL ratings try to recover from last season’s near-double-digit losses, there is a global element here that might provide solace in the front offices. Internationally, 1.6 million streams were started for last night’s game on Amazon Prime. That might be a number the NFL will want to start paying attention too.
PREVIOUS, 7:54 AM: There were weather issues, national anthem protest concerns and a helmet-to-helmet hit from the Chicago Bears’ Danny Trevathan that put Green Bay Packers receiver Davante Adams in the hospital last night on the season kickoff of CBS’ Thursday Night Football.
Despite all that, and a 47-minute delay after the first quarter due to lightning, Green Bay beat the Bears 35-14 at Lambeau Field. The weather couldn’t slow the Packers down once the game restarted and, with players and fans linking arms in unity, no one took an increasingly controversial knee last night during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
However, it still was not a good result for CBS and the NFL as the matchup went late and delivered 9.9/18 in metered market ratings. That’s down 13% from the 2016 TNF opener on CBS and NFL Network when the New York Jets beat the Buffalo Bills 37-31. In the first of five TNFs that CBS has this year, last night’s game was shown on NFL Network and made its live debut on Amazon Prime.
On a night of no competition from the other nets and with the matchup being shown live on Twitter, last year’s September 15, CBS kickoff game ended up with 15.4 million viewers and a 5.4/21 rating among adults 18-49. The start of the third season of TNF on the House of Moonves, those 2016 numbers were a 27% and 29% fall, respectively, from the 2015 TNF debut on CBS and NFL Network.
As for Thursday’s overnight numbers, the latest decline comes as the league, broadcasters and cable networks are biting already chewed nails over last year’s ratings and what could be coming down the line.
While ratings this year overall are actually up a tiny bit over last year right now, the 2016-2017 NFL season saw a nearly 10% decline from the year before. That’s a big hit for the big-money league, and the sting is being felt again with the likes of heavyweight Sunday Night Football hurting this year. Then, there is the increased political spotlight in the usually conservative NFL after President Donald Trump called for a boycott of the league and berated players for following now ex-San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick publicly protesting police brutality and racial injustice by not standing for the national anthem. Last night’s linking of arms by both teams was an attempt to deflect some of that attention.
Then again, yesterday also saw the former Celebrity Apprentice host tell Fox News that team owners have told him that they are “afraid” of their players, and it is up to the NFL to stop the “disrespectful” attitude towards the flag. “They can stop it,” Trump said on Thursday of the NFL. “They have rules for everything: You can’t dance in the end zone. You can’t wear the pink socks, relative to breast cancer…They have rules for everything.”
Unlike last year, the TNF opener on CBS faced some real competition off the field. ABC and NBC had the season premiere of Grey’s Anatomy and the anticipated return after more than a decade of Will & Grace among their offerings – with both possibly seeing additional benefits due to the delay in last night’s game. Competition, along with those weather delays, that could prove a mitigating factor for this year’s opener’s numbers.
We’ll update with more TNF numbers and results of the other shows on the Big 4 last night when we get them. In the meantime, two things to take away from last night’s Packers-Bears game. One, it as up 6% in MM over the last time the two teams fought it out on CBS and NFL Network’s TNF on October 20 last year. Two, last night’s game peaked with a 11.3/19 in the 9-9:15 slot, just before play was stopped for almost an hour because of those weather issues.