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This week marks the end of the regular season for American football, and it’s been a banner one for tune-ins among sports fans. New data from Nielsen shows that ESPN’s Monday Night Football is 2013’s most-watched series on cable television, for the sixth year in a row. And, the 2013 season ranks as the third highest-rated and most-viewed season in ESPN’s eight years of presenting the telecast.

MNF drew six of cable’s 10 biggest audiences for the calendar year among total viewers and seven of 10 among households. The 17 MFN airings throughout the autumn averaged an 8.6 US household rating, representing an average of 13.68 million total viewers. That’s up 7% from last year (when the average was 12.83 million) and the best since the 2010 season, which drew 14.66 million.

In total, the groundswell helped ESPN come in as the No. 1 network for men 18-49 across 16 games. And it was top for 15 of 16 Monday nights among men 18-34 and 25-54, and adults 18-34. It also won the night for both households and total viewers on eight Mondays this fall.

One of those top evenings was the highly anticipated matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Bears on 9 December, which drew 11.815 million households and 16.19 million total viewers. But the most-viewed MNF game was the Week 1 opener of Philadelphia Eagles vs. divisional rival Washington Redskins on 9 September, which claimed 16.52 million total viewers and 11.74 million households based on a 10.1 US household rating.

December was big for the network, with the 2 December New Orleans-Seattle match-up bringing in 15.50 million, and Baltimore-Detroit drawing 14.16 million on 16 December.

MNF’s only rival was AMC’s The Walking Dead, which has its best year for ratings yet at an average of 12.20 million total viewers when it aired on Sundays. However, the time-shifted phenomenon comes into play here: Walking Dead actually beat King Football if same-week DVR playback is taken into account—that brings the average to 16.48 million total viewers.

As RTVN previously reported, football continues to be high-value TV programming: it nearly swept Nielsen’s top 10 single-telecast list in 2013 and the Super Bowl was No. 1 with 108,693,000 viewers. With an average of 40.4 million viewers, the Oscars was the only non-sports event to make the list. In terms of regularly-scheduled programming, Nielsen said that Sunday Night Football topped the charts.

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