'Sunday Night Football' Wraps Its Season Only Slightly Humbled at No. 1

Despite steep year-over-year ratings losses in the fall, the NBC franchise wraps its 2016 run with viewership down only 10 percent.
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NBC's Sunday Night Football may have finally hit a speed bump in 2016, but it wasn't all that bad. With final averages in for primetime's biggest NFL franchise, viewership was down by just 10 percent from the previous season.

It's a much more forgiving narrative than the one it started out with. At one point in the fall, Sunday Night Football's audience was down by nearly 20 percent — one of several steep drops for America's most watched sport. Sunday Night Football ends the season with an average 20.3 million viewers and a 7.0 rating among adults 18-49. Sunday Night Football still ranks No. 1 in both measures. And while it is narrowly outpacing The Big Bang Theory among total viewers, its demo showing is uncontested.

But the demo is where Sunday Night Football saw slightly greater dips. It ends the season down 13 percent among adults 18-49, falling a full ratings point from the previous season.

Media and sports analysts have cited a multitude of reasons for the NFL's dips in the fall. Attention on the presidential election, poor team matchups and the increasing number of Thursday Night Football airings have all been blamed. And, to the credit of those pointing to the election cycle, ratings did perk up after its conclusion. Not only did Sunday Night Football see year-over-year gains with November and December matchups, NBC's string of Thursday night games at the tail-end of the season were up 15 percent from the franchise's CBS showing at the top of the calendar.

A full postmortem on the NFL's ratings will likely come closer to the Super Bowl, but don't expect the level of scrutiny seen earlier in the season. By all accounts, December was a huge month for football — and it bodes well for the playoffs and, in all likelihood, the Super Bowl.

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