Jets Help Bolster ESPN’s Ratings

Anyone with a functioning hypothalamus knows the correct answer to the musical question posed by Hank Williams, Jr., at the top of every Monday Night Football telecast: Hell yes, we are ready for some football.

From now until the new year, the cable ratings race will almost certainly be dominated by ESPN, which boasts the NFL’s weekly capper as well as a solid roster of Saturday college football matchups. For the week ended Sept. 19––the first of the 2010-11 NFL campaign––Bristol crushed its competition, averaging 4.11 million total viewers in prime, of which more than half were members of the two major TV demos.

Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings data, ESPN on the week averaged 2.13 million viewers 18-49 and 2.16 million adults 25-54, while outclassing the rest of the basic-cable field with a draw of 1.06 million viewers 18-34.

As is likely to be the case throughout the season, ESPN whipped up its biggest deliveries thanks to MNF. Fresh off their run on HBO’s latest season of Hard Knocks, the New York Jets hosted AFC North powerhouse Baltimore, in a season opener that drew a hair under 15 million total viewers––nearly twice what the network delivered in last season’s Bills-Pats place-setter (7.74 million).

By way of further contextualizing the Jets-Ravens delivery, if the telecast had aired last season, it would have ranked as the fourth-highest MNF delivery of 2009, behind Brett Bowl (21.9 million), Steelers-Broncos (16 million) and Panthers-Cowboys (15.7 million).

Demos were predictably garish, as Rex Ryan’s charges helped scare up 8.41 million adults 25-54, 8.24 million viewers 18-49 and 4.12 million viewers 18-34.

The second half of the night’s double-header (Chargers-Chiefs) held onto 79 percent of its lead-in, with an average delivery of 11.9 million total viewers. The AFC West showdown was responsible for the week’s second-highest demo deliveries, averaging 7.05 million adults 25-54, 7.2 million viewers 18-49 and 3.65 million 18-34s.

On Saturday, ESPN served up 4.25 million viewers with its SEC coverage (Arkansas at Georgia), before going on to duplicate that number in the prime-time game (Clemson at Auburn).

USA Network held onto second place with 3 million viewers, of which 1.18 million were members of the 25-54 set. The NBCU powerhouse also took the silver with its 18-49 numbers, averaging 997,000 in prime.

The two-part season finale of summer hit Covert Affairs averaged 5.23 million viewers at 10 p.m. Tuesday, building on the lead-in hour’s 4.59 million by 14 percent.

TNT took third place on the week, averaging 2.34 million viewers, while finishing fourth among 25-54s (980,000) and fifth among 18-49s (830,000). The mid-season finale of The Closer drew 7.21 million viewers Monday night at 9 p.m., while lead-out Rizzoli & Isles capped its triumphant first season in front of a crowd of 6.56 million viewers. In its first 10 episodes, the Angie Harmon-Sasha Alexander drama averaged 6.88 million viewers, per LSD ratings.

While many parents probably needed a bracing drink or a handful of Xanax to get through Nickelodeon’s Fred: The Movie––the titular character’s speaking voice puts one in mind of a chipmunk on helium––the kids certainly didn’t seem to mind. On Saturday night, a staggering 7.6 million viewers tuned in to watch the two-hour film debut starring the inexplicable Internet sensation, of which 53 percent (4.05 million) were children 2-11.

On the week, Nick/Nick at Nite averaged 1.92 million viewers in prime, edging Fox News Channel by some 4,000 viewers.

The top 10 outlets serving the primary TV demo last week were: ESPN, which averaged 2.13 million viewers 18-49; USA (997,000); History (932,000); TBS (836,000); TNT (830,000); FX (793,000); MTV (762,000); A&E (643,000); TLC (624,000) and Lifetime (564,000).