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NBC’s Sunday Night Football on pace for another No. 1 primetime rating

January 2, 2019

STAMFORD — NBC Sports Group’s flagship NFL program, Sunday Night Football, has finished the 2018 regular season with increased ratings that put it on track for a record eighth-straight year as the No. 1 primetime show.

Through its 17-week run, “Sunday Night Football” averaged 19.6 million viewers across TV and digital platforms, according to data released Wednesday by Nielsen and Adobe Analytics. The total represents a 7 percent increase from the 2017 campaign and helps reverse similarly sized audience drops in the previous two seasons.

“With compelling matchups featuring high-scoring offenses and exciting new players, we’ve had another great NFL season with viewership increases across the board,” Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports, said in a statement.

SNF’s supremacy extended to the top spot among viewers between ages 18 and 49 and also included nine of the 10 most-watched primetime telecasts between Sept. 6 and Dec. 30. Its most-popular game, the New England Patriots’ defeat of the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 4, was watched by 23.7 million on TV.

The show’s average TV-only audience of 19.3 million easily outpaced No. 2 show Thursday Night Football’s 14.3 million and No. 3 Big Bang Theory’s 12.7 million.

At the same time, SNF’s digital audience grew precipitously — powered by its first season of live-streaming on smartphone apps. Fans watched a combined 1.2 billion live-streaming minutes, up 80 percent from last year, across NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and NFL Digital platforms.

In 2017, SNF claimed the No.1 spot by finishing more than 4 million viewers ahead of the No. 2 show, CBS’ “Thursday Night Football.” But it saw its audience decrease 9 percent from the 20.3 million average in the 2016 season. The audience shrunk at a similar rate between the 2016 and 2015 campaigns.

This month, NBC Sports will carry two playoff games. The NFC Wild Card game between the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles will air at 4 p.m. Sunday. On Jan. 12, NBC Sports will have the Kansas City Chiefs, the top seed in the AFC, hosting a divisional-round game at 3 p.m.

To help sustain the recent gains, Lazarus has said NBC Sports wants to see the average elapsed time for games reduced to less than three hours. He said full-game viewing time now averages slightly more than that amount.

“We talk about how we can help, by creating different patterns with commercial breaks or creating a faster pace as we come in and out of commercials,” Lazarus said in a recent interview. “We do our best to work with the NFL. And they are very cognizant of that and have done a great job over the last few years of modernizing the pace of play.”

pschott@scni.com; 203-964-2236; twitter: @paulschott

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