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The opening round of the NFL playoffs drew a slightly smaller — though still huge — TV audience than it did a year ago.
The six games of the wild-card round averaged about 28.4 million viewers, a 4 percent decline from 2022’s opening round (29.65 million). Three of the telecasts topped 30 million viewers, led by the 33.21 million for Fox’s Sunday telecast of the New York Giants’ win over the Minnesota Vikings. That contest, however, was off by about 20 percent from the same window last year, when 41.5 million people watched the San Francisco 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys — the biggest audience for a wild-card game since 2015.
ABC and ESPN’s simulcast of this year’s Cowboys game, a 31-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night, drew 31.2 million people (including ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes). It was the second largest audience for the round and the biggest gainer of the six gains, growing by almost 36 percent over last year. CBS’ early Sunday matchup (Buffalo vs. Miami) had 30.87 million viewers and grew by about 2 percent over the same broadcast window a year ago.
Fox’s Saturday afternoon game (San Francisco-Seattle, 27.46 million viewers) was within 1 percent of the same window in 2022, while NBC’s two primetime matchups (Jacksonville-L.A. Chargers, 20.61 million, and Cincinnati-Baltimore, 26.87 million) were down by 22 percent and 7 percent year to year. NBC noted, however, that its two games marked the first time any broadcaster had averaged 20 million viewers on consecutive nights in two years — the last time NBC had Saturday and Sunday night wild-card games.
The small decline for the wild-card round mirrors that of the regular season, where NFL games averaged 16.7 million viewers (including streaming) — a 2 percent decline that’s attributable largely to the move of Thursday Night Football from Fox and the NFL Network to Amazon’s Prime Video.
CBS and Fox’s afternoon windows and NBC’s Sunday Night Football were all up a bit. ESPN and ABC’s Monday Night Football fell about 5 percent, excluding the week 17 matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals that was canceled following the Bills’ Damar Hamlin suffering cardiac arrest on the field. The audience to that point suggests it would have been the most watched MNF game of the season and pulled the season about even with last year.
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