Patriots Dominate on Field and on the Dial

Rash Report: NFL Continues to Be Top TV Draw

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- The New England Patriots dominated the field over the New Year's weekend, and ended up dominating the top 10 ratings list as well, thanks to an unusual deal between the NFL, CBS and NBC to air the most talked about game of the season.
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. Credit: AP

NBC's and CBS's simulcast of the NFL Network's historic New England Patriots victory was equally victorious, as the two broadcast nets summed a 9.7/28 in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic (the ratings from the NFL Network and local affiliates in Boston and New York will add to the total). CBS, the usual home of the AFC, scored a 5.2/15, while NBC contributed a 4.5/13 -- and then ran up the NFL score Sunday night with the seventh-rated show, "Sunday Night Football," which delivered a 5.8/16.

The game capped a perfect Pats season, as well as a near perfect season for the NFL, as the game was the most watched since 1995 and continued a streak of every week of the season having NFL pre-games, post-games or games included (or dominating) the top 10. So it's fitting that the game was the top rated show of the week (and a ratings rebuke to the networks' claim that viewers just aren't available on Saturday night).

Upon further review, as league officials often intone, the simulcast simultaneously may have helped and hurt the NFL in its full-contact cable dispute over carriage of its nascent network. Sure, it showed that the exclusivity of late-season games is reason enough for cable systems and viewers to embrace the NFL Network. But it also proved that nothing beats network TV, at least when it comes to unbeatable teams like the Patriots, which may leave the league wondering if it could have simply reaped more rights fees for the package instead of sowing so much discontent with fans. (Full disclosure: Dish Network, which carries the NFL Network, is a Campbell Mithun client.)

America's pastime went well beyond the pros, however, as the amateurs of the NCAA continued the football spike with bowl games, as several kicked into the week's top 10. Fox's Tuesday telecast of "The Sugar Bowl" was third with a 7.6/12, the "The BCS Bowl Pre-game" tied for ninth with a 4.6/7 and the overrun of the Rose Bowl was fifth with a 6.8/10.

Of course, once the NCAA and NFL (let alone Nielsen) championship trophies are hoisted, regularly scheduled prime time returns, but it won't be anything like the pre-strike schedule. NBC's "Law and Order: SVU" was first run, and first-rate relative to other scripted series, as it finished second with a 7.8/13. CBS's loyalists lifted reruns of NCIS (fourth with a 7.4/11) and "The Unit" (eighth with a 4.8/7) to the top 10, perhaps an indication of how CBS's relatively more august audience may pay off in January, as the network's more traditional audience may be more rerun resistant and may be least likely to stray.

The networks will also depend on reality as the other genre to generate ratings in lieu of scripted series, and NBC had to be heartened by the premiere of season five of "The Biggest Loser," which debuted right in the heart of New Year's resolution time to finish sixth with a 6.2/9. And ABC, which like all networks could use a few laughs in tough times, finished tied for ninth with a 4.6/7 for "Just for Laughs."

But for this week, at least, the laughs -- or at least the smiles -- belonged to football networks Fox, CBS and NBC, proving that at least for now, no team beats New England and nothing beats the old medium of network TV.

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NOTE: A share is a percentage of TV households that have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all TV households, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. households with a TV. In order to report ratings on a timely basis, all the ratings listed here reflect a Nielsen Live number. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of a commercial minute, live-plus-3 viewing basis.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of broadcast negotiations for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For daily rating updates, see rashreport.com.
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