NBC Got the Better Part of the 'Thursday Night Football' Deal

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Latavius Murray of the Oakland Raiders rushes through a hole against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium during the third quarter of their game last Thursday in Kansas City, Missouri.
Latavius Murray of the Oakland Raiders rushes through a hole against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium during the third quarter of their game last Thursday in Kansas City, Missouri. Credit: Peter Aiken/Getty Images

As the clock winds down on its inaugural five-game "Thursday Night Football" package, NBC would appear to have gotten the better part of the deal with audience turnout that serves as a rare counterpoint to the NFL's ongoing ratings malaise.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, NBC's Thursday night games have averaged 17.5 million viewers and a 10.5 household rating, making it the fourth highest-rated national NFL window behind the Fox and CBS 4:20 pm Sunday kickoffs and NBC's own "Sunday Night Football" broadcasts. NBC maintains an edge over CBS' early-season "Thursday Night Football" package, which averaged 14.7 million viewers and a 9.0 household rating.

While there's nothing against which to make a year-over-year comparison -- two of the three analogous 2015 "Thursday Night Football" games were carried exclusively by NFL Network, which reaches only 60% of U.S. TV households -- the ratings represent a mammoth upgrade when held up against NBC's standard primetime entertainment lineup.

Season-to-date, deliveries for NBC's "Thursday Night Football" slate are up more than three times (+218%) the 5.51 million viewers the network usually draws on non-football Thursdays. The Peacock's regular Thursday roster features the comedies "Superstore" and "The Good Place" as well as the dramas "Chicago Med" and "The Blacklist," and is averaging a 1.3 in the adults-18-to-49 demo -- well shy of the 5.5 rating notched by its three "TNF" broadcasts.

NBC undoubtedly has been the beneficiary of a stronger-than-usual selection of match-ups and, more to the point, the participation of the NFL's ratings saviors, the Dallas Cowboys. NBC's Dec. 1 Cowboys-Vikings game delivered 21.8 million viewers and a 12.8 household rating, beating out 12 of 14 of this season's "Sunday Night Football" broadcasts and every other national primetime NFL window to boot. Dallas, which will be featured in no fewer than 12 coast-to-coast broadcasts before the end of the regular season, leads the league with an average draw of 24.9 million viewers and a 13.6 household rating. America's Team indeed.

NBC was also given a boost by Thursday's night's battle between the strangely relevant Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs. After punching the visiting Raiders' offense in the mouth for four quarters, the Chiefs bumped their record up to 10-3 and took sole possession of first place in the AFC West, in a game that scared up 17.4 million viewers and a 10.5 household rating.

For all that, NBC's luck may be about to run out on it, as the network's final two "TNF" contests feature a .333 Rams squad traveling to Seattle and a major-market squabble between the Giants, who are struggling to earn a Wild Card berth and the all-but-mathematically-eliminated Philadelphia Eagles. Neither of these games will put up Cowboy-sized numbers, although NBC announcer Al Michaels last night did his best to hype the L.A.-Seattle game, noting that the Rams seem to have the Seahawks' number, beating the far-superior team in each of their last three meetings.

CBS Corp. chairman and CEO Les Moonves earlier this season told investors that he preferred having the earlier slate of "TNF" games, as they would prove to be an invaluable promotional asset for the network's new fall series. Mr. Moonves also said that carrying the earlier games reduced CBS' exposure to garbage-time contests.

As it happens, CBS suffered the same ratings bug that bit the other primetime NFL packages; specifically, the network was saddled with lousy teams (the New York Jets) squaring up against small-market opponents (Buffalo) and hosted a Texans-Patriots game for which the benched superstar Tom Brady was not allowed to suit up. Also not helping matters: an Oct. 6 game featuring the disappointing Arizona Cardinals and the execrable San Francisco 49ers.

The current "TNF" package extends through the end of the 2017 NFL season.

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