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NFL games score turnaround, registering viewership gains in 2018

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NFL games score turnaround, registering viewership gains in 2018

After sustaining declining viewership in recent years, NFL game telecasts rebounded during 2018, with each of the league's primary packages registering audience gains.

According to the pro football league citing data from Nielsen Holdings PLC, game telecasts averaged 15.8 million viewers during the 2018 season, up from 14.9 million in 2017.

Despite the improvement, the 2018 game telecasts still lagged the 16.5 million average viewership in 2016, which represented an 8% decline from 17.9 million watchers during the 2015 season.

Nevertheless, the uptick reaffirms the NFL's strong position among linear TV viewing. Where live audiences for entertainment programming on broadcast and cable have continued to wane significantly in the face of the proliferation of subscription video-on-demand services and delayed viewing options, the NFL said its games claimed 46 of the top 50 audiences since the beginning of its 2018 campaign.

This season's audience amelioration reverses the recent declines, which observers attributed to an array of factors: the absence of notable players to retirement and major injuries; concerns about the long-term effects of concussions; fans not watching full games to keep tabs on their fantasy players; and the partisan furor over players kneeling during the national anthem in protest against various social injustices.

This season, though, most of the politicking left the game and the league produced a record number of touchdowns and the second-highest-scoring campaign in its history, trailing only 2013.

Viewership grew as the season progressed, with all five of the major packages scoring advances. FOX (US)'s Sunday afternoon game coverage registered a 2% increase to 18.0 million average from 17.7 million in 2017. On Thursday night, where FOX has supplanted CBS (US) and NBC (US) as the broadcast carrier via a five-year, $3.3 billion deal, the network's 10-game average grew 4% to 14.8 million watchers from 14.2 million the prior year. The 2018 "Thursday Night Football" tally encompassed viewership on FOX, NFL Network (US), FOX Deportes (US), NFL digital, Fox Sports digital, Amazon.com Inc.'s Prime Video and Yahoo! Sports. The Nielsen-measured linear audience was up 3.6% to 14.3 million from 13.8 million.

NBC's "Sunday Night Football" posted a total audience delivery of 19.6 million viewers in 2018, up 7% from last year, according to the network.

CBS, with its largely American Football Conference package, averaged 16.5 million viewers on Sunday afternoons, up 6% from the 2017 campaign, while ESPN (US) tackled an 8% increase to an average audience of 11.6 million with the league's original prime-time offering, "Monday Night Football."