What is causing the NFL’s declining television audiences? As many people speculate that it’s all about the national anthem or the quality of the games or brain injuries turning fans away, another explanation may simply be that the NFL is on network television, and everything on network television is declining.
In fact, the NFL’s ratings have declined less than the rest of network television: According to CNN, the NFL’s ratings are down 5 percent from last year, while overall prime time programming on the four broadcast networks is down 8 percent from last year.
It’s harder than ever for ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX to draw large audiences because there’s more competition than ever. And it’s hard even to quantify how much that competition is affecting the broadcast networks’ ratings. Audiences for streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu aren’t released publicly. We’ll know on Monday morning how many people watched football over the weekend, but we won’t know how many people chose to watch Stranger Things 2 instead of football. Television is changing in ways that the TV industry hasn’t completely wrapped its arms around.
Although the CEO of FOX complained about NFL oversaturation, the reality is the NFL is doing better than ever, relative to the rest of the programming on network TV.