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The NFL preseason dominated ratings over NBA Christmas, but not really

The NFL preseason dominated ratings over NBA Christmas, but not really thumbnail

A frankly absurd number of people tuned in to watch the final preseason game between the Lions and Steelers. In total an estimated 5.82 million tuned in to watch, with Pittsburgh’s quarterback battle still being waged between Mitchell Tubisky and Kenny Pickett, while the Lions continue to show promise, and are garnering attention from their appearance on Hard Knocks this year.

While CBS and the NFL are obviously over the moon with that figure, it’s a little more nuanced that some takes on the rating might have you believe.

The Lions-Steelers preseason game on Sunday afternoon did better than each of the five NBA games from Christmas 2021. https://t.co/KWgpKhvOeg

— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) August 30, 2022

To be clear: Yes, in overall viewers the Lions-Steelers game did attract more overall viewers — but the idea that it “beat” the NBA on Christmas, well, that’s not really accurate. In the world of television total viewers is a nice peg to hang your hat on, but the money is really made in the demographic breakdown. Every network cares less about how many total viewers they attract, and more about how many viewers they get in the key demographic, which is adults aged 18-49.

This is the demographic advertisers want to attract, because there’s a belief they have the money to make their own purchasing decisions, but are not yet set in their ways with brand loyalty. It’s where brands hope to make lifelong customers, and there is a premium placed on TV renewal based on targeting the key demographic. It’s why you see Coke, Apple, and other premium businesses advertise during shows that are strong in the 18-49 bracket, while the majority of cable news get commercials for life insurance, copper balance bands, and horribly overpriced pillows.

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It’s for this reason that when TV ratings are reported they rank the true “winner” by performance in 18-49, and not total viewers.

via Show Buzz Daily

See Love & Hop Hop Atlanta for instance. The show only garnered 652,000 viewers, but recorded a 0.26 share in people aged 18-49 — whereas Tucker Carlson Tonight had over 3.3M total viewers, but the vast majority of its ratings were in people aged 50+. The more “valuable” show in the eyes of TV execs is Love & Hip Hop, because it’s attracting the audience they want to sell advertising space for.

When you look at demographic breakdown the preseason game between the Lions and Steelers still did astoundingly well considering it was a largely meaningless game, but it’s disingenuous to say it “beat” the NBA when it comes to network TV ratings.

  • NFL Preseason: Lions vs. Steelers, 18-49 demographic: 1.20
  • NBA Christmas: Celtics vs. Bucks, 18-49 demographic: 1.52
  • NBA Christmas: Warriors vs. Suns, 18-49 demographic: 1.64
  • NBA Christmas: Nets vs. Lakers, 18-49 demographic: 1.57

Still, we are talking about a premier day in the NBA calendar vs. a preseason game in the NFL — but the real lesson here isn’t trying to dunk on another league, but being ashamed we all have so little else to do than watch a preseason game on our Sundays when there’s a whole wide world out there.

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