MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Are you ready for some football? Actually, that's Hank Williams Jr.'s line, and it is associated with "Monday Night Football," not a prime-time preseason tilt between the Cowboys and the Colts, this year's Super Bowl champs. But viewers tuned in, anyway. And that a meaningless matchup -- with starters pulled after a few safe snaps -- can do so well in the ratings says a lot about the state of sports and prime time during these dog days of summer 2007.
The game on Fox last night delivered a 2.7/8 rating and share from 8-11 p.m. in last night's Nielsen "Fast Affiliate Ratings" in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, which if it holds would tie for the eighth-rated program of the week.
A good year for the national pastime
Major League Baseball, which has actually had a good year packing the parks (and even an occasional extra seat in front of the set, as ratings are up) just witnessed the breaking of the its most hallowed record hollowed by a cloud of controversy surrounding surly slugger Barry Bonds. But the ratings, at least compared to last night's NFL, is reflective of how, on TV, football is the national pastime. To be sure, the difficulty of scheduling around an unpredictable event is part of the problem, as was the West Coast time when Bonds' historic homer was hit. But the 1.1 ESPN household rating for Bonds' blast -- compared to NBC's 22.3 rating for when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's record (adult 18-49 figures aren't available) -- underscores just how much baseball, and especially media, have changed over the last 30y years.
But it's also indicative of how the NFL has been able to transcend sport and become a social occasion -- and even a media and marketing movement -- partly by having a 10th of the amount of games as baseball does, combined with set, scheduled storylines that creates the ability to reach that most elusive creature, younger male viewers.
'Family Guy' rewards Fox
Indeed, that very combination is what Fox had in mind years ago when it launched "Family Guy," which got a Super Bowl kickoff, only to be cut from the team after flagging ratings. But by going back to the media minor leagues -- in this case making it available as a VHS or DVD rental -- the show built a cult following and came back on network. This week, Fox was rewarded with two "Family Guy" repeats cracking the top 10, with Sunday's 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. editions coming in fourth and sixth, with a 3.0/9 and 3.0/8, respectively. The other scripted series to make the list were CBS's version of family guys, the brothers and son who comprise "Two and a Half Men," which tied for 10th with a 2.5/8, as well as the network's police procedurals "CSI" and "Without a Trace," which were tied for eighth and 10th with a 2.7/8 and 2.5/8, respectively.
Fox's NFL preseason comes amidst another social movement, in which competition is defined differently on prime time, thanks to reality TV dominating the summer schedule: America's pastime has yielded to "America's Got Talent"; the NBC amateur hour was second this week with a 3.0/10. And Fox's "Hell's Kitchen" (which was tops in the top 10 with a 3.9/11) is not about breaking records, but breaking down under the pressure from Chef Gordon Ramsay. On NBC and Fox -– the two nets most historically associated with the grand old game -– it's not baseball but bass (often sung off-key) that's winning viewers, as Fox's "Don't Forget the Lyrics" (tied for fourth with a 3.0/9) and NBC's "The Singing Bee" (2.8/8, good for seventh) continue their strong summer showings. CBS's "Big Brother" rounded out the top 10 with what passes as prime-time sports, as the reality competition scored a third-place 3.0/10 in last night's "Fast Affiliate Numbers."
Next summer's competitive landscape
Despite -- or because of -- its status as America's TV pastime, American-style football is not an Olympic sport (unlike football, aka soccer), which is probably appropriate, given its limited global appeal and the seemingly unlimited amount of other Summer Olympic sports. But NBC may wish it were, because this week next year -- on 8/8/08 at 8:08 local time -- the network's Olympic-sized coverage of the games begin, and NBC will try to win Nielsen gold against both the very same competitive playing field of NFL preseason and prime-time reality contest shows.
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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. Ad deals traditionally have been negotiated on the basis of live-viewing figures, though Nielsen Media Research and the broadcast networks release viewership statistics that include live-plus-same-day playback on digital video recorders. All the ratings listed here are live.
John Rash is senior VP-director of broadcast negotiations for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For daily rating updates, see rashreport.com.