The broadcast networks have had plenty of reasons to be thankful during the holiday break, as football (both varieties) helped shatter a cornucopia of ratings records.
Each of the three Thanksgiving Day NFL games served up landmark audiences, with Fox establishing a league record for the largest regular-season broadcast on record. Per Nielsen fast-national estimates, the Giants-Cowboys showdown in the late afternoon window averaged 42 million viewers, topping the previous high-gravy mark set by ABC way back on Dec. 3, 1990. (Back in the day, Americans seemed to have a greater appreciation for defensive standoffs, as Ronnie Lott and the 49ers’ bruising 7-3 victory over Lawrence Taylor’s G-Men averaged 41.5 million viewers on Monday Night Football.)
Note that these are preliminary ratings, with the final numbers expected to drop on Tuesday morning. The usual caveats about the recent addition of out-of-home deliveries to the Nielsen sample apply here; for example, last year’s Tryptophan Bowl (Raiders-Cowboys on CBS) averaged 40.8 million viewers, of which 15.3 million, or 38%, were fans who took in the action away from their own households. And yes, that includes Grandma’s house.
If OOH figures had been tabulated for that long-ago Niners-Giants brawl, the final deliveries would likely have topped the 50 million mark. Thus, any notion of record-setting must be set in “scare quotes.”
For all that, 42 million viewers is a staggering turnout for any broadcast, especially when the erosion in overall TV usage is taken into account. Fox’s deliveries were accomplished despite a 10% year-over-year decline in TV consumption.
Earlier in the day, as Americans on the East Coast were still picking at the cheese platter and milling around the living room, the Bills-Lions duel scared up 31.6 million viewers on CBS, which stands as the biggest audience for the early Thanksgiving window since the dawn of the Nielsen People Meter era (1987). CBS’s draw was up 12% versus the year-ago Bears-Lions game (28.2 million) on Fox.
Josh Allen’s unselfish devotion to, uh, keeping things interesting helped CBS retain fans even during the back half of the game, when nearly half of the country was at the table. (Per Nielsen, the Eastern time zone accounts for 48% of U.S. TV homes.) As such, the early game now stands as the 16th most-watched Turkey Day broadcast in history, and marks the only time the Lions appear in our top
But wait, there’s more. NBC closed out the feast with a primetime Patriots-Vikings clash that averaged 24.7 million viewers on the flagship network, with another 1.2 million monitoring the action via streaming platforms. This marks the NFL’s strongest turnout for the late holiday window since the Bears and Packers teamed up to deliver 27.8 million linear-TV viewers in 2015.
On the local front, 67% of all TVs that were in use in the Minneapolis market were tuned in to NBC, while 62% of Boston-area sets were locked in on the affiliate station, NBC10. Those shares were consistent with the home-market figures for the earlier games, with Dallas topping all comers with 69% of its active TV sets having tuned in to Fox’s Giants-Cowboys presentation.
The ratings dominoes continued to fall on Black Friday, as Fox’s broadcast of the World Cup match between England and the U.S. averaged 15.4 million viewers, per Nielsen fast-nationals. That marks the all-time biggest stateside delivery for a men’s soccer broadcast on a single network, eclipsing the previous high of 14.5 million for the July 17, 1994 Brazil-Italy Final on ABC.
While the full-match numbers are likely to hew closely to the preliminary results, a more robust whistle-to-whistle figure will be available later this week. Fox’s early tally includes pre- and post-match coverage, and is therefore diluted; by way of comparison, the landmark U.S.-Portugal match in 2014 averaged 13.8 million viewers during the three-hour program window on ESPN, while the condensed whistle-to-whistle deliveries jumped to 18.2 million.
In other words, Fox’s final tally for the actual match is likely to reach north of 20 million viewers. We’ll keep you posted.
Note that the two-day rundown does not include Fox’s deliveries for Saturday’s Michigan-Ohio State battle, which is expected to have attracted the year’s largest viewership totals for a regular-season college football game.
(This story has been updated in the headline.)