As much as it seemed unlikely that the usual horde of Americans this Thanksgiving would voluntary submit to the dubious charms of 2020 vintage NFC East football, the Turkey Day TV tradition held fast. And with an average delivery of 30.3 million viewers, the Fox broadcast of Thursday’s encounter between Washington and Dallas now stands as the season’s most-watched NFL game.
To better contextualize the size of Fox’s national TV audience, Thursday afternoon’s game out-delivered every non-NFL sports broadcast going back to Nov. 2, 2016. On that evening, Fox’s coverage of the Chicago Cubs’ history-making World Series win averaged a staggering 40 million viewers.
The turnout for the visiting Football Team’s 41-16 win over the Cowboys was down 7% compared to last year’s Buffalo-Dallas game on CBS (32.6 million viewers) and trailed Fox’s coverage of the 2018 Tryptophan Bowl, which also featured Washington and Dallas, by fewer than 150,000 total viewers. Thursday’s game ranks 17th on the list of the most-watched Thanksgiving Day NFL broadcasts of the modern Nielsen era.
Fox now accounts for six of the season’s 10 most-watched NFL games, with CBS laying claim to the other four. Thus far in the 2020 campaign, 15 of the 20 highest-rated games have aired outside of primetime.
As much as streaming represents the future of video consumption and the [eventual] demise of the linear TV networks, Thursday’s digital deliveries suggest that Fox can rest easy for the near term. The average-minute audience for the Dallas game worked out to be 562,623 streamers, and while that is hardly an inconsiderable figure, it also is merely 1.85% the size of the game’s TV deliveries.
Earlier in the afternoon, CBS’s presentation of the Texans-Lions meetup averaged 23.4 million viewers, down 14% versus Fox’s analogous Bears-Lions broadcast in 2019 (27.1 million) and off 12% compared to CBS’s own Chicago-Detroit game from the previous year (26.5 million). Houston’s 41-25 victory currently ranks as the fourth most-watched NFL broadcast of the 2020 season.
Ad spend for both games was consistent with last season’s figures, which translates to about a $75 million windfall for each network. According to iSpot.tv estimates, the top spenders in the Fox broadcast included Ford, Verizon, GMC, Walmart, T-Mobile, USAA, Geico and Taco Bell, while among CBS’s biggest holiday backers were Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo, Verizon, Bud Light, Walmart, State Farm, Geico, Ford and Audi.
NBC’s scheduled Ravens-Steelers capper has been shifted no fewer than three times since the Baltimore camp succumbed to a coronavirus outbreak, bouncing from Sunday afternoon to Tuesday prime to the decidedly oddball Wednesday 3:40 p.m. ET slot. While NBC was denied its big holiday showcase, the network made the most of the day with its morning programming, as its coverage of the reformatted 94th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade averaged 22 million viewers.