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NFL has had its best overall viewership to start the season since 2016: Is it because viewers are watching less cable news?

  • Viewership is up 9% over last year for the first three weeks of the 2021 season with an average of 16.9 million viewers on TV and digital platforms. "The ratings rise is occurring as the overall usage of TV declined by 9% over the same period," says the Los Angeles Times' Stephen Battaglio. "Nearly all other dependable television franchises have seen their audiences erode in the face of viewer migration to streaming video platforms. The top prime-time entertainment program last week was CBS’ NCIS, which scored 8.4 million viewers — about half of what the drama scored during premiere week five years ago. Every major TV awards show hit an all-time ratings low over the last year, a streak that ended when the 73rd Emmy Awards show saw its viewership rebound on Sept. 20. But even that event got a boost from an NFL game lead-in on CBS." Why is NFL viewership soaring? Brian Rolapp, chief media and business officer for the NFL, says the league never saw any evidence that political divisiveness in the country cut into its TV audience. But he acknowledges the NFL is benefitting from the shift away from cable news, where viewing reached record levels last year amid the presidential election. “We never really saw a ton of evidence that our viewership was materially impacted when we were more in the political news,” says Rolapp. “I think it’s a return to lighter things to watch. There has been a lot of heavy news and topics for people to consume on television in the past couple of years. They are migrating to things that are much more unifying and football is one of those things.” According to the NFL and Nielsen data, total viewing of cable news in the hours when football is on is down around 30% from a year ago. Rolapp adds that TV news taking viewers from NFL games isn't a Trump-era phenomenon -- NFL ratings declined in every presidential election year since 1996. 

    TOPICS: NFL, Cable News, Ratings