'MNF' Scores As Cable’s Most-Watched Series

Wrapping its third season with a strong contest -- a Chicago Bears’ overtime victory over the Green Bay Packers -- ESPN’s Monday Night Football was the most-watched series on cable television during 2008.

The franchise set a cable viewership record for the third straight year and tackled the medium’s three biggest cable household audience marks and 13 of the top 15, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

The total sports network’s 17 Monday Night Football telecasts in 2008 averaged an 8.9 household rating, 8.68 million households and 11.96 million viewers, according to Nielsen data. Those performances represented gains of 3%, 5% and 7%, respectively, over the 8.6, 8.28 million homes and 11.2 million viewers during its sophomore season coverage in 2007. 

The season culminated with a 9.8 rating, 9.58 million homes and 13.8 million viewers for Bears-Pack on Dec. 22, with the contest ranking as the third-largest household audience on cable this year.

In three seasons on ESPN, Monday Night Football has registered seven of the top 10 all-time biggest household audiences in cable history, led by the Eagles-Cowboys telecast on Sept. 15, which attracted cable’s largest household audience ever with an average of 12.95 million homes. That contest, a 41-37 Cowboys’ victory, ranks as cable’s most-watched show ever live, and trails only the premiere of Disney Channel’s High School Musical 2 in August 2007, when measured on a live + 7-day basis. Both cablecasts scored with 18.6 million viewers, but the telefilm edged the MNF action by some 2,000 viewers, when DVR vieweing was factored in. 

ESPN’s NFL games account for 13 of the top 15 biggest household audiences -- and eight of the top 10 --  in basic-cable this year, ranking first, second, third, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, as well as 10th through 15th.

Other highlights included, ESPN leading all networks -- cable or broadcast -- in delivery of all men 18 to 34, men 18 to 49 and men 25 to 54 and adults 18 to 34 every Monday in primetime this season; and heading all networks  in the delivery of adults 18 to 49 on 15 of 16 Mondays in primetime. 

Four times this past season, ESPN was the most-watched network in all of television in primetime on Monday.

Moreover, for the past nine consecutive weeks, ESPN led all cable networks in the delivery of adult men on a total-day basis, as well as men 18 to 54. ESPN was first among men18+ and males18 to 54 for 13 of the past 15 weeks.

“ESPN’s Monday Night Football was a resounding success this season with ratings and viewership increases from a year ago and an overwhelmingly positive response from fans to our new approach highlighting technology and X’s and O’s analysis,” said John Wildhack, ESPN executive vice president, program acquisitions and strategy, in a statement. “By offering quality football content across many platforms, we are proud to continue the tradition of this great franchise which is so revered by fans, players and coaches, and we are already looking forward to MNF’s 40th season in 2009.”