After a seemingly interminable hibernation, the NFL roard back onto the nation's airwaves Thursday night, and while the ratings for the Panthers-Broncos showdown weren't as robust as last season's opener, NBC's broadcast still squashed everything in its competitive set.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the NFL Kickoff game averaged 25.2 million viewers, which marked a decline of 8% compared to last year's Steelers-Patriots grudge match, which drew 27.4 million viewers. The year-over-year drop in the guaranteed metric was slightly more pronounced, as Denver's 21-20 victory drew a 14.6 household rating, down 10% versus a 16.2.
NBC noted that the average-minute audience who streamed the game was 278,000 viewers. In other words, streaming accounted for just 1.1% of the game's overall deliveries.
Predictably enough, the top local markets for NBC's Kickoff broadcast were Denver, which notched a 46.9 household rating/74 share, and Charlotte, which drew a 33.2/52. The market share stats are significant because they indicate that nearly three-quarters of all TVs in the Mile High City that were in use were tuned in to NBC, while the same applied for 52% of Charlotte TV homes.
While the rematch of Super Bowl 50 now stands as the lowest-rated NFL Kickoff since 2009, when Pittsburgh's 13-10 overtime victory over Tennessee drew a 12.8 household rating, NBC's opening night was hardly a bust. To put Thursday's ratings in perspective, the Panthers-Broncos broadcast out-performed the seven-night average for the 2016 NBA Finals (20.3 million viewers, 11.4 household rating) and the 2015 World Series (14.5 million, 8.6 rating). And when compared to the dinky numbers the new scripted shows are all but sure to deliver, the NFL Kickoff deliveries are like Von Miller rampaging his way through Oklahoma drills at a Pop Warner pee wee football practice.
Denver in 2015 was the fourth most-watched/highest-rated NFL franchise, trailing only Green Bay, Dallas and New England. Over the course of its eight nationally televised games, a slate that included five primetime contests and three 4:20 p.m. windows on CBS, the Broncos averaged 22.4 million viewers and a 13.2 household rating. No. 7 Carolina, which was featured in just four nationally distributed games, averaged 23.5 viewers and a 12.7 rating. (The Panthers were given a lift in the overall viewership category thanks to their participation in CBS's Thanksgiving Day game, where they squared off against the Cowboys.)
NBC will have a chance to boost its Nielsen deliveries this weekend, when "Sunday Night Football" slides into its regular time slot with a meeting between the Patriots and the Arizona Cardinals. Bereft of Tom Brady, the Pats are a 6-point underdog.
Among the more promising games on NBC's "SNF" roster are an Oct. 23 avian clash between NFC contenders the Seahawks and Cardinals and a Turkey Day throwdown between the Steelers and Colts. Moreover, the network enters the December homestretch with three consecutive interdivisional rivalries (Cowboys-Giants, Steelers-Bengals, Broncos-Chiefs), of which the latter two will almost certainly have playoff implications.
The NFL campaign begins in earnest this Sunday, when CBS and Fox's regional coverage gives way to the season's first 4:20 game (Giants-Cowboys). The evening after the Pats and Cards battle it out in the desert, ESPN kicks off a new season of "Monday Night Football" with its annual doubleheader. Pittsburgh travels to the nations's capital for the 6:55 game, which will be followed by a first look at the Los Angeles Rams v. 2.0., as the former St. Louis Rams square off against the 49ers at 10:15.
Lastly, the new-look "Thursday Night Football" package gets underway on CBS Sept. 15, when the Jets take on the Bills in Orchard Park.