'Thursday Night Football' Ratings Sag, but Twitter Feed Surpasses Expectations

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Matt Forte of the New York Jets runs against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on Thursday.
Matt Forte of the New York Jets runs against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on Thursday. Credit: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Primetime NFL games continue to experience a bit of a ratings slump, as deliveries for CBS's first "Thursday Night Football" broadcast of the 2016 season were down significantly versus the year-ago results.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the Jets-Bills game averaged a cumulative 15.4 million viewers and a 9.5 household rating across CBS and NFL Network, which marked a 26% decline compared to the 21.1 million viewers and 12.9 household rating notched by last year's Broncos-Chiefs opener.

The Jets' 37-31 win over former head coach Rex Ryan's Bills delivered a 6.3 rating among adults 25 to 54, and a 5.4 among adults 18 to 49, both of which were down 28% compared to the year-ago demos.

While the "TNF" opener no doubt faced tough comps when held up against last season's kickoff broadcast -- Denver's thrilling come-from-behind road victory is the most-watched, highest-rated Thursday night game of CBS's three-year stewardship -- the results were still well below last season's eight-game average (17.5 million viewers, 10.9 household rating). Only time will tell if the recent spate of ratings declines in the three prime-time NFL broadcasts is a sign that the league's status as TV's last remaining bulletproof property is in need of revision.

The Jets last season were rated No. 22 among all NFL franchises, it should be noted, and the Bills are such a poor draw they'll once again only be featured in two coast-to-coast games. But even if the Empire State matchup may have been too parochial to whip up a big national TV audience, it's still a bit unnerving that "TNF" couldn't put up stronger numbers against what was a wall of repeats on ABC, NBC and Fox.

ESPN's counter-programming may have made a bit of a dent in the CBS-NFL Net ratings; the AAC matchup between the Houston Cougars and Cincinnati Bearcats drew 2.16 million viewers, or slightly more than the 2.1 million viewers who watched the Jets-Bills game via the Twitter stream -- an impressive tally for a first-time outing.

About that historic live-stream: Well, it went off without a hitch, provided you didn't sweat the 45-second lag between what viewers saw on their TV sets and what was streaming on Twitter. It's a propellerhead issue, having to do with satellite relay and encoding and buffering, and there's not much that anyone can really do about it, but unless you had certain moments spoiled by the curated tweets scrolling at the right of the video -- fans crowing about Darrelle Revis' blown coverage made his eventual lapse nearly a minute later seem like an exercise in hyper-accelerated déjà vu -- you probably weren't even aware of the delay.

The Twitter ad load was also wholly distinct from the commercials that aired on the linear TV broadcast, and by the second quarter they became almost mind-numbingly repetitive. Presumably targeted to the individual end-user (as a heavy Netflix user, I was served up no fewer than nine spots for the upcoming "Luke Cage" series), the Twitter in-game ads also tended to steer toward digital products and services rather than the meatspace brands (Bud Light, Ford, Nationwide, Adidas, etc.) that populated the CBS and NFL Net feed.

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