Unsurprisingly, people watched the NFL in droves on Thanksgiving Day.
The three contests that took place on Thursday averaged 34.1 million viewers, eclipsing the prior record from a year ago of 33.6 million viewers. Even for a league that has maintained its standing as the king of television, adding a half-million people per game is significant.
Undoubtedly, much of this is owed to the ascension of the Detroit Lions, who came in to their annual Turkey Day game with an 8-2 record atop the NFC North. However, 33.7 million people watched the rival Green Bay Packers pull off the upset, the most viewers for the early Thanksgiving window ever.
Dallas’ win over Washington was watched by 41.8 million people, giving CBS the second-most watched regular-season game of all time.
Finally, with 26.9 million viewers, San Francisco’s victory over Seattle was not only NBC’s second-best Thanksgiving game since it began broadcasting the third Turkey Day game in 2012, but it was the best viewed prime-time game on the holiday since 2015.
The “total unduplicated audience” metric that the league touts, however, is a peculiar one. It represents the sum of ratings for all three games, and at first glance it’s an impressive figure because it would even reveal a total audience that’s bigger than the Super Bowl. However, displaying the number is misleading because the majority of those who watched the Packers take on the Lions early in the afternoon (or morning for those fans west of the Mississippi) were the same who watched the other two games later in the day.
It’s cliche to talk about the NFL’s stranglehold on television, even if there are reasonable debates over the actual quality of the games this season. However, the league’s power is all the more impressive when considering how it has not only retained its strength in traditional (linear) television, but has immediately become a powerhouse on streaming platforms. Compared to other content on TV, sports have long been in a better position to contend with the pull from linear networks to streaming services, even if there are concerns about how leagues capture and retain younger viewers. It should come as no surprise that the NFL, as America’s most popular entertainment company, if you will, remains king no matter where fans watch its games.