CBS says its Sunday afternoon games are up 3% versus a year ago; NBC’s “SNF” games are 8% higher. Now, halfway through the current season -- looking at all NFL games -- viewership is virtually flat. In the current TV landscape, flat is the new up.
Expect TV advertisers to raise media budgets for future premium live NFL programming in an attempt to attract hard-to get male viewers, as well as other viewing segments.
What brought viewers back? Strong teams in big markets playing close, competitive games. In Los Angeles, there is the Rams and the Chargers doing well. Of course, perennial favorite New England Patriots remains in the hunt. And there is rising, strong teams, such as Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans.
Still, TV -- and sports TV -- can be fickle. National anthem protest concerns, promoted by President Trump, are a non-issue now.
This means we can resume looking forward to higher sports fees for TV networks. Brian Wieser, senior research analyst, at Pivotal Research Group, says this isn’t good for traditional TV companies like Walt Disney.
Just in the past 10 years, there has been double-digit price inflation in sports rights fees, Wieser said on CNBC on Thursday. And now you have more competition from Facebook, Amazon and maybe Google. “There is going to be a margin erosion factor.”
So who will pay for that?
TV advertisers, with higher CPMs, and consumers, when it comes to higher subscriber fees for sports cable TV networks. This would include services such as DirecTV's "NFL Sunday Ticket," which in its current contract sets back the satellite TV programmer at $1.5 billion per year.
Near-term viewing trends look good. Historically, any lackluster NFL viewing typically comes in early season games. Even then, most of the viewing picks up as interest in teams grows toward the playoffs. This occurred last year amid all that concern over crumbling viewing.
All of which means good news for the NFL. But for media owners and advertisers? Tougher costs and media return on investment levels to consider.