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Subject: Sliding NFL ratings could deliver hit to TV networks
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Subject: Sliding NFL ratings could deliver hit to TV networks
Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2017 08:19:10 -0700
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By JONATHAN BERR MONEYWATCH October 20, 2017, 5:45 AM

Sliding NFL ratings could deliver hit to TV networks
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The NFL's declining TV ratings, blamed by some on the national anthem 
controversy, could soon take a financial toll on the broadcasters that 
have spent tens of billions dollars for the right to air pro football, 
investment analysts say.

Through the first five weeks of the season, ratings for the Sunday night 
game on 21st Century Fox's (FOXA) Fox Sports have slumped 7 percent from 
a year ago. NFL viewership at CBS (CBS), the parent company of 
CBSNews.com, has plunged 17 percent for Sunday match-ups and 8 percent 
on Thursday. The audience for NBC's "Sunday Night Football" game 
broadcast has dropped 4 percent.

ESPN's "Monday Night Football" is bucking the trend, posting a 6 percent 
gain for the season to date. The sports cable network is owned by Disney 

  High schools disbanding football teams after decline in participation
High schools disbanding football teams after decline in participation
"Probably it's a little early to use the word 'worry,' but at this point 
I think it's something that deserves close attention," said Tuna Amobi, 
an analyst with CFRA who follows the media sector.  "To have now two 
consecutive years of declines in NFL ratings -- that is something that 
begs a lot of questions … and could have significant financial 
implications for the ratings."

Despite the ratings slump, the NFL remains by far the most popular U.S. 
sport. Since the start of the season, 17 of the top 20 shows on TV have 
been NFL games.  NBC's "Sunday Night Football" remains the most watched 
show in Prime Time.

.."NFL games remain the most valuable programming on television and 
continue to deliver massive audiences across all windows," NFL spokesman 
Brian McCarthy said in an email.

Yet those large audiences that advertisers covet must be balanced 
against the steep price tag of beaming NFL games. CBS, Comcast, and Fox 
have a $27 billion deal with the NFL for the right to broadcast games 
through 2022. ESPN reportedly pays $1.9 billion per year for the rights 
to "Monday Night Football," a 73 percent increase over the previous 
contract. NBC and CBS also signed a $900 million deal in 2016 for the 
rights to broadcast Thursday night games.

Whether the NFL ratings slide has reached the threshold where the 
networks would have to provide advertisers so-called make-goods -- 
essentially free commercial time -- isn't clear. Advertisers pay rates 
for TV commercials based on guarantees from networks regarding the 
number of viewers a show will attract.

But Wall Street is keeping a close eye on how the ratings decline could 
affect broadcasters. Credit Suisse analyst Omar Sheikh said in a note 
this week to clients that if ratings "don't improve materially" for Fox, 
"we see a potential headwind to domestic advertising revenue" in the 
current fiscal quarter. He cut his 12-month price target on the 
company's stock from $37 to $35.

Sheikh also trimmed his per-share earnings forecast for CBS for the 
quarter to $1.05 following what he called "soft ratings for both the 
summer schedule and for the start of the NFL season."

Officials from CBS Sports and Fox Sports couldn't immediately be reached 
for comment.  A spokesman for ESPN referred questions about TV ratings 
to the NFL. NBC Sports declined to comment.

"It's a Catch-22 type situation," Amobi said. Broadcasters "are getting 
a lot of promotional value from these games, and maybe investors are 
going to ask more questions the next time these [broadcast rights] 
renewals come around."

© 2017 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.
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Jonathan Berr
Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New 
Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.