by Rick Rockwell
There’s nothing like a little synergy.
That’s what you get when you combine the National Football League (NFL) and the National Broadcasting Company, otherwise known as GE’s NBC.
As a football fan, I’m not complaining about this partnership. The league and the network delivered some great football last week.
But surely the league’s other television partners must be feeling like jilted prom dates, especially ABC. Why couldn’t the league deliver such a wonderful schedule to ABC in the past few years when its Monday night football franchise’s popularity slowly eroded?
NBC’s new football program feels just like that old Monday night show on ABC. The announcers are the best covering football, John Madden and Al Michaels. Yes, they are the same ones who ABC had last year. There’s a glitzy music open, wonderful set pieces, and highly-produced graphics. Plus, smartly, NBC has Bob Costas and his crew showing highlights at halftime, which was the best ABC Monday night formula for years during the halftime break.
There’s still Monday night football, but it is masquerading with music and graphics from the old program. The reworked Monday night cable program is just a hollow echo of the program that once dominated Monday primetime. The Monday night football on ESPN (owned by Disney, just like ABC) feels third-rate by comparison to what you can see on NBC. Even Tom Cruise who made a guest starring appearance at the ESPN Monday night game between Washington and Minnesota couldn’t boost the quality of the coverage with his Hollywood star power.
Viewers seemed to agree with this assessment. Last week, the league gave NBC two primetime games. The audience turned out in droves. The Sunday night Colts-Giants game was the highest rated program of the week, with 22.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. Thursday’s Steelers-Dolphins game was the third highest rated program of the week, with 17 million viewers.
Compare those numbers to ESPN’s 12.6 million viewers for the Washington-Minnesota game or the 10.5 million who stuck around for the Chargers-Raiders game, the second contest in the cable doubleheader on Monday. To ESPN’s credit, the doubleheader drew the second highest cable audience ever with an 8.4 national rating. That compares favorably to the average rating last year of the cable network’s Sunday night football coverage, which drew a 7.1 rating for the season.
Comparing ratings between network television and cable is always tricky, but ABC’s version of Monday night football drew a 10.8 rating last year, the lowest rating in the program’s 25-year history. This just shows what seems tired on network television may still be considered tremendous in the world of cable.
The real trend is that football viewing seems as powerful as ever. And the NFL must be smiling about that, not to mention the league’s broadcast partners.
(The photo of Heinz Field is from NBC Sports.)
by Rick Rockwell