Higher Ratings Forecast For NFL Prime-Time Shows

NFL’s key prime-time series could rebound with higher viewership this season from the impact of negative factors in the early season and the presidential election in 2016, according to one media analyst.

Michael Nathanson, senior research analyst of MoffettNathanson Research, expects a 5% gain for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” -- to hit 21.3 million viewers for the 2017 season -- and an 11% increase for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football”  to 12.7 million viewers.

From 2014 through 2016, viewership on a compounded annual growth rate declined 2% for “Sunday Night Football” to 20.3 million and 8% for “Monday Night Football” to 11.4 million.

Media analysts say the ratings of a year ago were affected by the absence of three high-profile quarterbacks in early-season games -- Tom Brady (suspension), Peyton Manning (retirement) and Tony Romo (injury/retirement). In addition, there was high interest in the presidential election, including some key TV debates, which ran opposite some games.

Going forward, Nathanson says two key factors are “power” rankings: overall viewer interest in teams on TV and the online Nielsen website rankings of the teams.

For example, The Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots have been the leading NFL teams, according to Nielsen, from September 2015 through January 2016. It appears that this will continue.

“It does look like the NFL has constructed a better prime-time schedule this year,” Nathanson writes.

Game competitiveness has been improving over the last three years for both NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” and ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” Nathanson says this will be less of a factor going forward.

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