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Big Drop For ESPN’s College Football Playoffs

Ratings for ESPN’s college football playoff games were down sharply as they moved from New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve.

The early game, pitting Clemson against Oklahoma at 4 p.m. ET, drew a 9.7 overnight ratings. A year ago, the early semi-final drew a 15.3 overnight rating.

The late game, in which Alabama beat Michigan State, drew a 9.9 overnight rating.  A year ago the late game drew a 15.5.

Both games were blowouts, which didn’t help keep viewers watching.

ESPN had sought to air the games at a time other than New Year’s Eve, but college official balked despite the $600M in fees they’re getting from the sports network.

The numbers won’t help ESPN, which has been under pressure because of subscriber declines.

But some decline had been expected. And the bulk of ad time on the games was sold as parts of packages that included the regular season and ESPN’s other bowl games, which to some degree lessens the impact of these two high-profile telecasts.  

After last year’s  college playoffs produced record ratings for cable, college football ad sales were up in terms of prices and volume. If the bowl game ratings dropped below what advertisers were guaranteed, ESPN will be able to make up some of the shortfall with make good ads in the upcoming college football championship game and in an NFL playoff game

ESPN had no comment beyond a press release reporting the ratings results.

ESPN said that the Oklahoma-Clemson game was ESPN’s seventh-best non-championship game ever, and that its New Year’s  Eve bowl ratings were up 79% from last year, when it aired the non-playoff Peach, Fiesta and Orange Bowls.

The games were big draws on digital platforms.

ESPN says yesterday’s playoff games were the second and third-most streamed games for any sports, excluding the World Cup, in the history of WatchESPN.

The Alabama-Michigan State game had more than 1 million unique viewers and added 318,000 average minute impressions, up 24% from last year’s late playoff game,  to its TV audience.

The Clemson-Oklahoma game was up 158% in digital impressions from last year’s early playoff game.

Despite all the football activity on its corporate sibling, ratings for ABC’s primetime New Year’s Eve programming drew a 2.8 rating among adults 18 to 49, down one tenth  from last year, and  unchanged at 9.8 million viewers. (Both ESPN and ABC are owned by the Walt Disney Co.)

From 10 till 11 p.m. grew 2% in total viewers from last year and was unchanged among adults 18 to 49.

ABC says its New Year’s Eve programming won all six half hours and beat the combined deliveries of CBS, NBC and Fox for the evening among adults 18 to 49.