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Who are the missing NFL viewers?

News, 21 October 2016

NEW YORK: A new analysis of falling NFL ratings suggests that the missing viewers are mostly white, blue-collar workers from lower-income households.

Pivotal Research reviewed data from Nielsen covering the first five weeks of the season to look at various sources of decline. In a research note, analyst Brian Wieser explained how the figures had been assessed, including measuring viewing in person-hours and in viewing per person across both Live + Same-Day viewing and Live + 3-Day viewing.

Over the first five weeks of the current NFL season, he reported, aggregated viewing in terms of person-hours had declined by 13.2% on a live + same-day basis (or -13.1% on a live + 3-day basis).

Among adults aged 18-49, however, viewing declined by 14.1% on a live + same-day basis (or -14.0% on a live + 3-day basis).

And when considered in terms of viewing per person, the figures were slightly worse, with an average decline of 14.6% on a live + same day basis, rising to -15.1% for adults aged 18-49.

"It appears the decline is at least partially specific to NFL game programming rather than to football or total TV consumption,", the research stated, "as college football programming on a live + same-day basis is up by 0.5% among all people 2-99 during the same periods of time in both 2015 and 2016 and total TV consumption is up by 2.2% (or +2.1% on a live plus 3-day basis)."

Various reasons have been put forward for falling NFL ratings, including poor game match-ups, missing talent, viewing shifts to election-related programming, competition from online streaming services, counter-reactions to national anthem protests and content saturation.

While Pivotal Research was unable to give a definite answer, it was able to identify that declines were more pronounced among people living in blue-collar homes than in white collar ones (-18.7% vs -12.1%), among people in lower income homes than in higher income ones (-19.0% vs -14.1%), and among homes with white heads of household rather than black heads of household (-14.8% vs -13.6%).

"However, we emphasize that most of the noticeable differences in segment-level declines we looked at are relatively marginal, typically not more than a few percentage points," it added.

Data sourced from Pivotal Research; additional content by Warc staff