NFL TV ratings took an 8% hit last season with a near 8% decline again through the first weeks of this year. Reasons are discussed on a weekly basis, beginning with last year’s polarizing election, concussions, and divided opinions regarding player protests. All are factors, but how much of the TV ratings hit is due to a decline in the popularity of traditional television, rather than the popularity of the sport?
Cord cutting is becoming more common in the world of television. With many OTT and streaming services available, customers have less of a need for traditional TV, especially as more live content becomes available through those services. Less than 5% of the NFL’s audience view games through a streaming service, but according to USA Today that trend has seen a near 25% increase.
The Diffusion Group, a TV and video research advisory firm, teamed with Adobe to study sports streaming tendencies. Their survey found the NFL is the most streamed sport from September through the Super Bowl in February.
“Ratings are down, yes,” Michael Greeson, director of research for The Diffusion Group, told USA Today. “Declines in legacy broadcast television has been too often tied to Nielsen’s ratings, which don’t take into account the viewing of connected devices used by people to watch live sports.”
The Diffusion Group estimates the number of U.S. homes with broadband internet will reach 100 million this year, more than the amount of homes with traditional pay TV service. Still, only 32% of those surveyed by TDG and Adobe were aware Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and other platforms have recently offered free live sports.
While social media companies look to compete for broadcast rights, and have the funds to do so, networks don’t seem to think they could lose the NFL. Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports said, “I don’t believe abandonment of broadcast is in the best interest of any sport.” According to Lazarus, digital audiences for the NFL are still relatively small and the NFL understands the important role traditional TV plays in the league.