Ratings still rule in the television world despite a fluid landscape that makes historical comparisons virtually irrelevant.
The problem for that industry, by and large, is a different generation in positions of power failing to fully understand that the current one is not a slave to old delivery formats.
The common-sense conclusion of declining television ratings is that an explosion of programming, coupled with a significant increase in methods to get that product to the viewer, has eroded the audience of traditional broadcast networks by giving their customers more options.
There remain a few (very few actually) properties that have captured the public’s imagination and bucked an unwinnable trend, like A&E’s “Walking Dead,” the highest-rated show in cable TV history, which generally trounces everything on so-called free television., but those kinds of successes are generally few and far between and usually have the shelf life of the Millennial that network executives are actually trying to reach.
But, those kinds of successes are generally few and far between and usually have the shelf life the size of the attention span of the Millennial that network executives are actually trying to reach.
The one exception that always proved the rule when it came to television ratings has been the NFL, which has been the only DVR-proof piece of programming television networks have been able to trust.
Because of that, the revenue that the NFL has been able to charge for the rights to broadcasting its games has exploded.
When the last deal ended in 2013, the terrestrial television networks CBS, NBC and FOX, along with cable’s ESPN, ponied up just over $20 billion to the rights. The current deal, which runs through 2022 with the same networks (indicating happy partners) nearly doubled that total to $39.6 billion.
And one of the reasons Roger Goodell is hanging on to the commissioner role, no matter the public outcry or criticisms of the day, is for legacy purposes in that come 2022, he believes another similar spike in TV money is waiting, an endgame that will paint him as one of the great businessmen in entertainment history.
For the first time, though, there is a chink in the NFL’s armor as ratings are trending downward.
The season opener, a Super Bowl rematch between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers, scored 25.2 million viewers, on the surface, an astounding number in today’s environment but one that was down 8 percent from the 2015 opener, according to Forbes.
The opening weekend numbers were also down an even more significant 13 percent and that trend continued through Week 2 with some trying to connect the exodus in viewers to the #boycottNFL hashtag which has shown up on Twitter, one spawned from the “social injustice protests” started by Colin Kaepernick that are now spreading throughout the league.
But that’s white noise.
Both sides of that argument are vocalizing small constituencies and the silent majority doesn’t care all that much if Kaepernick is sitting during the National Anthem or kneeling, never mind the now dozens of players raising a fist in what has become a convoluted protest with no real teeth.
Conversely, those upset by “entertainers” stepping out of their comfort zone are a tiny minority of viewers, who for the most part aren’t even paying attention to their TVs until the ball is kicked off.
This is an Occam’s Razor issue is that the simplest answer is the right one.
The increased competition from three broadcast networks and a couple of UHF channels to hundreds of cable options coupled with terrestrial TV being joined by cable and satellite broadcasters, as well as over-the-top streaming options, was going to erode the audience eventually.
And it looks as if we have reached that tipping point.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @JFMcMullen — Also catch John each week during the NFL season ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on SB Nation Radio, FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America.