NBC's "Sunday Night Football" scored a 14.22 live household rating and 22.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, more than double the kinds of ratings NBC got last year with its regular prime-time Sunday lineup.
ESPN's highest-rated telecast
ESPN notched its highest-rated telecast ever with an 8.18 live household rating and 12.5 million viewers for the first game of the "Monday Night Football" doubleheader, which started at 7 p.m. The second game, which kicked off at 10 p.m., had a 7.03 live household rating and 10.4 million viewers. (ESPN boasted that the audience for the first game was cable's second largest ever, after only CNN's NAFTA debate in November 1993 between Al Gore and Ross Perot.)
ESPN reaches about 84% of households, so it's difficult to compare "Monday Night Football" on ESPN to last year's "Monday Night Football" opener on ABC. Last year ESPN aired "Sunday Night Football," which averaged a 7.41 live household rating on opening weekend.
"For NBC, the goal was to improve ratings, promote their fall shows and create appointment viewing on Sunday nights and, with that in mind, it did a good job," said Brad Adgate, senior VP-director of research at Horizon Media.
NFL was smart
The NFL was smart to help the networks by delaying the start of the season until after Labor Day, he said. The special Thursday-night season opener on Sept. 5 between Miami and Pittsburgh on NBC also helped. (The NFL will begin airing regular Thursday and Saturday games on its NFL Network at Thanksgiving.)
And, of course, the heavily hyped Manning Bowl didn't hurt. One would have had to be living under a rock to miss the hype surrounding NBC's Sunday-night debut, which pitted the Peyton Manning-quarterbacked Indianapolis Colts against little brother Eli Manning's New York Giants. (Older bro prevailed.)
ESPN, meanwhile, aired a double-header: Minnesota Vikings vs. Washington Redskins (do they have the two oldest quarterbacks in the league?) and San Diego Chargers vs. Oakland Raiders. It launched what it's calling "Monday Night Surround," a regular six-hour promotion on-air and a week's worth of online games that make "Monday Night Football" the focus of its lineup throughout the afternoon.