NEW YORK — The real fall television season – football season – has come roaring back.
Seven months after the New Orleans Saints' Super Bowl win became the most-watched TV program ever in the United States, the National Football League scored impressive ratings across the board for the first week of its season.
Fox's game between the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles was seen by 28 million people, the most-ever for a Sunday afternoon game on the opening week of a season, the Nielsen Co. said.
There were similar stories for prime-time games. Thursday's rematch of January's NFC championship between the Saints and Minnesota Vikings had 27.5 million viewers, the most reached during the 14 years the league has done a Thursday night opener. The 25.3 million who watched NBC's Dallas-Washington matchup represented the most-watched Sunday night game ever, Nielsen said.
The NFL, its sponsors and the television networks spent $50 million promoting the "back to football" weekend, which included a New Orleans concert featuring Dave Matthews and Taylor Swift that drew 200,000 people.
"It's a simple thought that really captures an emotional moment that happens this time of year – at the same time you go back to school, go back to college and back to work, you go back to football," said Mark Waller, the NFL's marketing director.
The league had some compelling opening week matchups, with 11 of the 16 games decided by seven points or fewer.
Other factors help pull fans together, including the rapid increase in homes with big-screen, high-definition television sets, which intensify the sports experience. The NFL finds that social media has been a boon, too. Fans texting each other or posting notes on Twitter or Facebook increase interest in the games, Waller said.
The rise in fans playing in fantasy football leagues also has gotten fans more into the games, he said.
In an unusual step for competitive networks, CBS and Fox personalities appeared on NBC's Thursday kickoff schedule promoting the games they would show that weekend.
"Like all of these things, there's probably a confluence of factors" that has driven viewership, he said.
The football games enabled NBC to crush its competition in the prime-time ratings competition. The network averaged 11.4 million viewers in prime-time last week (7.0 rating, 12 share). CBS had an average of 6.1 million viewers (3.9, 7), Fox had 5.8 million (3.5, 6), ABC had 4.8 million (3.0, 5), the CW had 2 million (1.2, 2) and ION Television had 1.2 million (0.8, 1)
The three-hour premiere of Univision's new Spanish-language dance competition, "Mira Quien Baila!" (Look Who's Dancing), average 8.8 million viewers on Sunday. Univision average 3.8 million viewers last week (1.9 rating, 3 share), TeleFutura had 780,000 viewers and Telemundo 770,000 (both 0.4, 1), Estrella had 210,000 and Azteca 200,000 (both 0.1, 0)
Friday night's "Stand Up 2 Cancer" special, shown on four broadcast and 11 cable networks, had 18.3 million viewers, Nielsen said. That's up 15 percent from the same special a year ago.
MTV's Video Music Awards show was seen by 11.4 million viewers, the biggest audience for anything on the network since 2002, Nielsen said.
NBC's "Nightly News" topped the evening newscasts with an average of 7.8 million viewers (5.2, 11). ABC's "World News" was second with 7.1 million (4.8, 10) and the "CBS Evening News" had 5 million viewers (3.4, 7).
A ratings point represents 1,159,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 115.9 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.
For the week of Sept. 6-12, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: NFL Football: Minnesota at New Orleans, NBC, 27.49 million; NFL Football: Dallas at Washington, NBC, 25.26 million; "NFL Thursday Pre-Kick," NBC, 19.68 million; "Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick," NBC, 19.04 million; "Football Night in America," NBC, 14.53 million; "The OT," Fox, 13.26 million; "America's Got Talent" (Tuesday), NBC, 12.35 million; "America's Got Talent" (Wednesday), NBC, 12.14 million; "NFL Opening Kickoff Show," NBC, 11.46 million; "NCIS," CBS, 10.08 million.
ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. Fox and My Network TV are units of News Corp. NBC and Telemundo are owned by General Electric Co. ION Television is owned by ION Media Networks. TeleFutura is a division of Univision. Azteca America is a wholly owned subsidiary of TV Azteca S.A. de C.V.