January 4, 2017

SKEDBALL: College Football Playoffs Survive the NYE Challenge

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Written by: Mitch Metcalf
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The College Football Playoff Semifinal games on New Year’s Eve provided some welcome news for ESPN and Disney, with both games up versus last year’s low levels (especially the afternoon window which was up +23% from last year).  The 19.3 million viewers 2+ for the 3:12 pm game (Alabama def. Washington 24-7) includes 18.4 million in an average minute watching on ESPN and almost one million in an average minute (947K) watching the “Megacast” on ESPN2 (with multiple views of the game and a lot of game stats on screen).  Last year’s 4:10 pm game on New Year’s Eve averaged 15.6 million watching on ESPN and a meager 90K watching the Megacast on ESPN2.  We don’t have official streaming audiences for the games, but media reports indicate this year’s games averaged about half a million streaming viewers in a typical minute.  So ESPN pushed the audience back up toward 20 million viewers on a very tough day of the year for television, making the most of multiple platforms.  ESPN has to be particularly pleased with the double-digit increases with men 18-34 (the most elusive demographic on TV) for both semi-final games this year.


EARLIER IN THE DAY WAS BETTER.  ESPN and the NCAA moved the start times of each game up an hour this year, providing a little bit of cover from the festivities at midnight.  Although these earlier start times actually meant there were slightly fewer available television viewers in total this year in each time period, there were more football fans willing to start and stick with the games at these earlier times.  The time period shift was a very good way to make the most of a terrible situation.  Next year, the semifinal games return to New Year’s Day, as it is the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl’s turn to host the semifinals in this three-year cycle. This is the most optimal scenario for a big audience (a time when many more viewers are available to watch the bowls with the strongest brand names).  The numbers next year should be much more like the excellent ratings the inaugural year of the playoff, and the NCAA finally might be willing to abandon the New Year’s Eve scheduling in future years.



About the Author

Mitch Metcalf
MITCH METCALF has been tracking every US film release of over 500 screens (over 2300 movies and counting) since the storied weekend of May 20, 1994, when Maverick and Beverly Hills Cop 3 inspired countless aficionados to devote their lives to the art of cinema. Prior to that, he studied Politics and Economics at Princeton in order to prepare for his dream of working in television. He has been Head of West Coast Research at ABC, then moved to NBC in 2000 and became Head of Scheduling for 11 years.