The opening game of the NFL season drew its smallest audience since 2008 while viewership for the first “Sunday Night Football” game was 9.2 percent less than last season.
However, both games drew the largest audiences for a prime-time program since March, according to live-plus-same-day figures released Tuesday by Nielsen.
The defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles 18-12 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL Kickoff game last Thursday averaged 19.028 million viewers, the most for a prime-time program since the March 24 episode of the CBS news magazine “60 Minutes.”
Viewership was down 12.7 percent from the 21.795 million average for the 2017 game, the Kansas City Chiefs 42-27 upset of the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
The start of the 2018 game was delayed 45 minutes by lightning. A 26-minute portion of the delay was considered a separate program and averaged 12.756 million viewers, fourth among prime-time programs between Sept. 3 and Sunday
Viewership for the 2017 game suffered because evacuations in Florida from Hurricane Irma that kept potential viewers away from their sets.
The Green Bay Packers 24-23 victory over the Chicago Bears on “Sunday Night Football” was the week’s most-watched prime-time program, averaging 22.117 million viewers, the most for a prime-time program since ABC’s coverage of the Oscars March 4.
The first “Sunday Night Football” game of 2017 averaged 24.366 million viewers, a figure bolstered by the matchup of the Dallas Cowboys, long the NFL’s most popular team, and New York Giants from the nation’s largest television market.
Viewership for most forms of programming has dropped in recent years because of increased viewership of streamed programming.
The total average audience for the NFL Kickoff game was 19.5 million viewers and 22.5 million for “Sunday Night Football.”
The total audience also includes viewership from NBC Sports Digital and NFL Digital platforms.
The first series premiere of the 2018-19 season, the Fox comedy “Rel,” averaged 5.49 million viewers, third in its Sunday 8-8:30 p.m. time slot and 17th for the week. It retained 44.5 percent of the 12.329-million average audience of Fox’s 18-minute NFL postgame show, “The OT,” that preceded it.
The first premiere of the 2017-18 season, the Fox science fiction series “The Orville,” averaged 8.558 million viewers, retaining 70.56 percent of the 12.128 million audience of “The OT.”
NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” continued its streak of being the most- watched entertainment program each week an original episode has aired this summer and last summer, averaging 10.695 million viewers, seventh overall.
The “America’s Got Talent” results show was the week’s only other entertainment program to average more than 7 million viewers, averaging 9.892 million viewers to finish ninth for the week.
The two NFL games helped NBC average 9.3 million viewers, the most for any network since its coverage of the final week of the Winter Olympics, Feb. 19-25.
NBC has been the most-watched network for 10 consecutive weeks. The week’s figures assured NBC of being the most-watched network for the full year for the first time since 2001-02, when it also televised a Winter Olympics. NBC’s yearlong figures this year were also bolstered by its coverage of Super Bowl LII.
CBS was second, averaging 3.82 million viewers. Its most-watched program was “60 Minutes,” 11th for the week averaging 7.098 million viewers.
NFL coverage enabled Fox to end its 32-week streak of finishing fourth among the major broadcast networks, as its 42-minute runover of its afternoon NFL coverage into prime time averaged more than 24 million viewers, increasing its average for its 15 hours of programming to 3.52 million viewers.
The runover is not considered a separate program but is included in the weekly average.
The streak began the week after Fox concluded its coverage of the 2017 NFL season by airing the NFC championship game.
ABC was fourth for the week, averaging 3.45 million viewers. Its most- watched program was the Miss America competition which was 25th for the week, averaging 4.342 million viewers.
NBC aired 20 1/2 hours of programming for ratings purposes, CBS and ABC 21 each.
ESPN’s coverage of the Labor Day college football game between Florida State and Virginia Tech was the week’s most-watched cable program, averaging 5.652 million viewers, 14th overall.
ESPN ended Fox News Channel’s 13-week streak as the most-watched cable network, averaging 2.567 million viewers.
Fox News Channel was second, averaging 2.26 million viewers, and MSNBC third, averaging 1.985 million.
The most-watched Spanish-language prime-time program was Univision’s coverage of the Mexico-Uruguay exhibition men’s soccer game which averaged 1.855 million viewers to finish 69th among broadcast programs. Its overall rank was not available.
Univision averaged 1.32 million viewers to finish first among the Spanish-language networks for the second consecutive week. Telemundo was second, averaging 1.25 million viewers, followed by UniMas, which averaged 380,000 viewers, Estrella TV, which averaged 270,000, and Azteca America, which averaged 90,000.
ABC’s “World News Tonight with David Muir” was the most-watched network nightly newscast for the 41st consecutive week and 52nd of past 53, averaging 8.335 million viewers.
The “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” was second, averaging 7.515 million viewers.
The “CBS Evening News” averaged 5.584 million viewers. It has finished third each week since the week of Sept. 25-29, 2006.
The weekly averages for all three newscasts do no include Labor Day.
The week’s 10 most-watched prime-time programs were NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” its coverage of the NFL Kickoff game; the seven-minute NFL Kickoff game pre-kickoff show; the nine-minute “Sunday Night Football” pre- kickoff show and the 26-minute weather delay before the NFL Kickoff game; Fox’s 18-minute NFL postgame show “The OT”; and NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” 22- minute third segment of “Football Night in America; the Wednesday “America’s Got Talent” results show and the 28-minute NFL Opening kickoff show.