The Splash Brothers may not have lived up to their collective sobriquet and the final outcome was apparent well before the final buzzer, but Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals still managed to deliver staggering ratings for ABC.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, Thursday night's Cleveland Cavaliers-Golden State Warriors shootout averaged a whopping 19.2 million viewers, and an 11.1 household rating, making it the most-watched, highest-rated NBA Finals opener since ABC began broadcasting the championship series back in 2003. By comparison, Game 1 of the 2015 Finals served up 17.8 million viewers and a 10.6 household rating.
The Warriors' 104-89 victory also drew a 7.3 rating in the target demo, which translates to 9.26 million adults 18-to-49. That marked a 6% improvement from the 6.9 demo ABC drew during last year's analogous broadcast.
The total viewership numbers for the 160-minute broadcast (9 p.m.-11:40 p.m. EDT) topped every single episode of scripted TV that aired in the just-concluded 2015-16 season. The Jan. 5 installment of CBS's veteran procedural "NCIS" -- a special crossover episode with lead-out "NCIS: New Orleans" -- came closest, delivering 19 million viewers in its Tuesday 8 p.m. time slot, but managed only a 2.7 rating in the 18-to-49 demo.
Thursday night's game also out-delivered the fifth and deciding frame of the 2015 World Series, which drew 17.2 million viewers, a 5.1 demo and a 10.0 household rating. As usual, the NBA also made short work of the NHL Final; Game 1 of the Sharks-Penguins best-of-seven series managed just 4.08 million viewers, a 1.4 demo and a 2.3 household rating.
As one might expect, the hometown DMAs were the top markets, with Cleveland pulling a 36.0 rating and the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose area notching a 32.8.
In keeping with what ESPN told Ad Age earlier this week, movie studios, automakers and quick service restaurants were the top ad categories represented in last night's broadcast. Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures and Sony/Columbia Pictures were among the most visible theatrical clients, while Toyota, Acura, Cadillac, Kia and Nissan were hard to miss on the auto front. Taco Bell, KFC and McDonald's were prominent QSR reps.
According to iSpot.tv estimates, ABC/ESPN raked in an estimated $34 million in in-game ad sales revenue, a figure that does not include the broadcast's multiple integrations and presenting sponsorships.
That the defending champs were able to dispatch LeBron James and the Cavs without breaking too much of a sweat -- although Cleveland did make things interesting with a late third-quarter run -- is a testament to the depth of the bench. On a night when MVP Steph Curry shot 4-of-15 and scored just 11 points and Klay Thompson contributed nine points, backups like Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa helped kick in 45 points from off the pine.
Cleveland gets a shot at evening the series on Sunday night. Last year, the Cavs squared things at 1-1 with an overtime win, which led to another W on its home court two nights later. Unfortunately for King James and his beleaguered teammates, Golden State would go on to sweep the next three games, securing their first NBA title in 40 years.