Americans are watching more football — and networks have technology, fantasy leagues, and Michael Vick to thank.
Of the 20 highest-rated telecasts on television so far this season, 18 have been NFL games, The New York Times reported Monday – noting that they were spread across CBS, NBC, and Fox. The sport has been by far the most popular form of programming on television.
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Football has always drawn huge audiences – there’s a reason advertisers work so hard on those Super Bowl ads – but this season is different. NBC’s Sunday night games are up 10 percent this season, and CBS’s Sunday afternoon games are up 10 percent as well. Fox games are up 2 percent, and ESPN’s ratings are consistent with the last year’s record-breaking season. With three games remaining, "Sunday Night Football" is on track to be the most-watched prime-time broadcast of the fall.
The top 13 cable broadcasts this season were all NFL games. “Monday Night Football” rules among younger-adult viewers most prized by advertisers (though ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” won more total viewers). And more and more women are watching: NBC’s Sunday games this season rank third in prime time among women 18 to 49.
What’s happening? Three things at once:
Personalities: Two of the biggest names in the game, Brett Favre and Michael Vick, brought sideline drama to the sport: Favre because of allegations he sent inappropriate voicemails and photos to a reporter, and Vick with his return after a prison sentence for running a dog-fighting ring. Vick's leading the Philadelphia Eagles to a lock on the NFC East would have been compulsively watchable even if it didn't include his quest for redemption.
Technology: High-definition TV has made football feel more alive than ever, and better camera lenses and locations have added to the you-are-there intensity.“HD has been the dollop of frosting on top of everything else,” NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol told the Times. “If you think about it, the game is rectangular anyway, and now you buy this big rectangular screen.”
Fantasy football:The Los Angeles Times says ratings have gotten a boost from the estimated 29 million Americans who play in fantasy leagues. Fantasy football leagues have given casual or non-fans a reason to care about the sport, and given anyone with a team a reason to pay close attention.
"It's not just that, 'I'm an Eagles fan, and I'm going to watch the Eagles,'" ESPN vice president of programming Leah LaPlaca told the newspaper. "[If] I happen to have Peyton Manning as my starting quarterback and I happen to have Chris Johnson on my fantasy team … I'm going to watch the Titans and I'm going to watch the Colts, 'cause I want to see how those guys are going to do."