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Thanksgiving TV broadcasts shatter records

Thanksgiving TV viewership gave media companies a lot to be grateful for this year.

A range of events over the holiday broke ratings records.

NBC drew an all-time record 28.5 million viewers this year during its broadcast of the 97th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, up 6% from last year, Variety reported Friday.

The feat is impressive as swaths of consumers opt to cut the cord and move away from linear TV. Despite the trend, more than two-thirds of the parade audience, about 22.3 million viewers, tuned in via traditional TV, according to Variety.

Football was another ratings monster over the holiday.

CBS’ Thanksgiving broadcast of the Dallas Cowboys’ win over the Washington Commanders was the most watched program on any network since Super Bowl LVII earlier this year, the network said in a Friday post on X, formerly Twitter. The game captured 41.8 million viewers based on Nielson data, peaking at nearly 44.3 million viewers. The broadcast’s viewership rose a whopping 31% from last year’s CBS Thanksgiving game, but came in about 500,000 viewers lower than last year’s Cowboys-Giants matchup in the comparable timeslot.

While CBS did not release ratings numbers for Paramount+, the network said it notched its most-streamed NFL regular season game ever on the streaming platform.

Fox’s Packers-Lions matchup grabbed 33.7 million viewers per Nielson, the most watched Thanksgiving Day game ever for the 12:30 p.m. ET timeslot and up 6% from the comparable game last year, the network said Tuesday. Fox, unlike its competitors, does not have a dedicated streaming platform for its main programming.

NBC Sports said on Friday that its broadcast of the San Francisco 49ers’ victory over the Seattle Seahawks was the second-most watched Thanksgiving primetime game ever, behind 2015′s Thanksgiving Bears-Packers matchup. The broadcast averaged 26.9 million viewers across the network’s platforms based on fast national Nielson data.

The game was also NBC Sports’ most-streamed primetime NFL Thanksgiving game ever, with viewership led by its platform Peacock, NBC Sports said Friday.

As a whole, average viewership across all three games was 34.1 million, the highest for Thanksgiving Day on record, the NFL said Tuesday.

Amazon also joined in on the fun this year. The company paid a reported $100 million to broadcast the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins matchup the day after Thanksgiving, in hopes that the Black Friday NFL game would become a tradition on Amazon’s Prime Video platform. The hefty price tag adds to the $1 billion per year Amazon already pays to broadcast NFL’s Thursday Night Football. The e-commerce giant also attempted to use the NFL broadcast to drive product sales on the busiest shopping day of the year. Ratings numbers for the Friday game have not yet been released.

“It would make sense that it’s not going to do as well as the Thursday games because it’s a different platform on a different day,” said sports media consultant and former Fox Sports executive Patrick Crakes. “That does not mean that it doesn’t have a lot of value.”

As for that whopping $100 million price tag paid to broadcast the Friday game, don’t expect Amazon to make up that money in any straightforward way. The investment serves as a marketing tool to grow value elsewhere, whether it be Prime subscribers or retail sales, Crakes said.

More broadly, the Thanksgiving broadcasts were successful for the advertising market, according to Kevin Krim, the CEO of data analytics firm EDO Inc.

“The ratings were quite good from Nielson and the ad performance was quite strong,” Krim said Monday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“Consumers responded very aggressively” to big discount messages, Krim said.

Traditional TV’s Thanksgiving ratings success comes at a critical time, as the industry tries to survive and adapt while consumers cut the cord. Viewership also indicated that linear TV does not have to suffer for streaming to capture strong ratings, and vice versa.

“Everybody knows where to find the NFL,” said Crakes. “It shows that the power of traditional TV is still amazing. When it gets the right content in the right context, it blows everything else away. It’s not going to stop declining, but it shows why it’s not going to go away.”

The record-breaking ratings on Thursday show how the streaming and linear mediums can work at the same time, though the two can appear to be at odds, Crakes said.

The complementary performance could fit into predictions that companies may offer consumers cable and streaming offerings under one price tag, instead of fragmenting the two.

Liberty Media Chairman John Malone said earlier this month that he expects the ad-supported tier of streaming platforms to be bundled with cable plans because cable and streaming “are kind of tied to the hip.”

Crakes echoed the sentiment, saying linear and streaming viewing will coexist going forward and probably get reintegrated into some kind of bundle.

“The question is, how do you make the monetization work? We haven’t figured that part out yet,” Crakes said. “But part of it is understanding that linear and streaming are co-operative together and that linear can continue to decline and streaming can continue to grow. But for the medium run, they clearly go together.” CNBC

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