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NBC ends’Thursday Night Fottball’ on high note

By Tim Baysinger (Reuters) – “Thursday Night Football” ended its
season with a flurry, as Comcast Corp unit NBC’s
five-game portion of the schedule averaged 17 million U.S.
viewers, an increase from earlier in the season.

Earlier this season, CBS Corp’s CBS averaged 14.7
million viewers for its five games, which all fell during the
contentious U.S. presidential election campaign. The campaign
had been cited by the National Football League as a key factor
in lower TV viewership.

Ratings across the board were down 14 percent from last year
through the first nine weeks of the season, before the Nov. 8
election. Networks have had to give free extra commercial time
to advertisers to compensate for lower-than-promised ratings,
though advertiser demand has remained high.

The games aired by CBS and NBC were simulcast on the
league’s cable network and Twitter Inc’s social media
platform.

The average minute audience for Twitter’s 10 games was
220,000 viewers, a fraction of the 15.9 million that watched the
games on NBC, CBS or NFL Network. The 15.9 million for the games
that aired on either NBC or CBS – NFL Network also aired eight
games exclusively – was down 10 percent from last year, when CBS
was the only broadcast channel that showed Thursday night games.

Fans criticized Thursday night games for their lackluster
quality of play, while players complained that having to play a
Thursday night game just four days after playing on Sunday went
against the league’s edict to better protect them from injuries.

The criticism got to a point where the NFL was said to be
rethinking its stance on staging games every Thursday, according
to a report from NBC-owned NFL site Pro Football Talk. The
league quickly denied any speculation that it was looking to end
“Thursday Night Football.”

“We are fully committed to ‘Thursday Night Football’ and any
reports to the contrary are unfounded,” the league said in a
statement shortly after the report.

Primetime games were hit the hardest this season, though the
gap has closed since the election. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football”
was down 18 percent heading into Election Day, but has closed
the gap since, now off from 2015 by 11 percent, with two more
games on the schedule.

The ascendance of the Dallas Cowboys, one of the league’s
most popular teams, has helped as well. Four of
the five most-watched NFL games this season featured the
Cowboys.

(Reporting by Tim Baysinger; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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