Dec 29 If not for this past Monday night's
highly watched NFL game, The Walt Disney Co's ESPN
network would have had its smallest audience for "Monday Night
Football" in 2016 since the 2006 season.
The National Football League has been plagued all season by
ratings downturns, forcing its TV partners to give free extra
commercial time to advertisers to compensate for
lower-than-promised ratings. Advertiser demand has remained high
though, as NFL games still attract more viewers than almost
everything else on television, according to the Nielsen ratings
Monday's Dallas Cowboys-Detroit Lions game averaged 18.6
million viewers, the most ESPN has garnered for a "Monday Night
Football" game since 2014. That helped ESPN post an average of
11.4 million viewers for its 17 games this season, finishing
ahead of only the 2007 season, when it drew 11.2 million,
according to Nielsen data provided by ESPN.
The NFL franchise moved from ABC to ESPN for the 2006
season; both companies are owned by The Walt Disney Co
This year marks the third consecutive year that ESPN's
"Monday Night Football" audience has declined, and the fifth
decline in the past six years.
The NFL ratings downturn was most notable in primetime. ESPN
was among the hardest hit, with viewership falling nearly 12
percent from last season, according to the Nielsen data. ESPN
had to contend with the contentious U.S. presidential election,
often cited by league officials as a key cause for lower ratings
While the election hurt NFL ratings, the three major U.S.
cable news networks - 21st Century Fox's Fox News,
Comcast Corp's MSNBC and Time Warner Inc's CNN
- all benefited from the unpredictable race between Republican
Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Fox News finished 2016 as the most-watched U.S. cable
network in primetime for the first time in its history,
according to Nielsen data released late on Wednesday. Time
Warner's CNN and Comcast Corp's MSNBC also had huge viewership
(Reporting by Tim Baysinger; Editing by Dan Grebler)