In somewhat of a surprise, early regular-season NFL TV ratings are up so far versus a year ago -- 3% more.
Four weeks into the 2018 NFL TV season, viewership is at an average 16.3 million TV viewers -- higher than 15.8 million a year ago -- when looking at the four national TV network games on CBS, Fox, NBC, and ESPN, according to analysis from MoffettNathanson Research.
Week Four witnessed its biggest gains of the season so far -- up 19% (to 16.5 million) -- versus the same week a year ago.
The biggest improvement: Sunday afternoon games on CBS, which features AFC teams, 8% higher so far to average 16.3 million viewers. All Sunday afternoon games -- CBS and Fox -- are up 2% to average 17.1 million.
Looking at other individual NFL programming: NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” improved 2% (20.1 million viewers), while “Thursday Night Football” (now all on Fox when it comes to broadcast TV airings) is down 1% to 14.5 million and ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” is down 4% to 11.4 million viewers.
We didn’t see this coming!” writes Michael Nathanson, senior analyst of MoffettNathanson.
Although still earlier in the season, he said: “If this strength does continue, we would expect that the NFL’s four television partners -- most notably Fox (due to ownership of Thursday and Sunday games) -- could see a real benefit to advertising growth in fourth quarter of this year.”
Analysts have been concerned that NFL programming viewership may be declining at a faster pace than in recent years. The 2017 regular-season ratings were down 9% versus the previous season to average 14.9 million viewers.