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Bills' victory over Dallas is ratings winner, sets up 'spotlight game' Al Michaels didn't see coming

Alan Pergament

To practically no one’s surprise, Buffalo had the top-rated CBS affiliate among the top 56 metered markets for the Bills’ 26-15 upset of the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day.

However, it might have been slightly surprising that the rating didn’t approach what Bills games have been getting this season.

The game had a 36.2 rating on WIVB-TV, well below the ratings in the low 40s for several Bills games this season.

The Dallas-Fort Worth market, which is No. 5 in the country, was No.2 with a 26.9 rating on the CBS affiliate there. Buffalo is the No. 52 market.

While Dallas had a lower rating, each point there is worth 25,633 households, more than four times the 5,767 households each point in Buffalo is worth.

If you do the math, about 692,000 households were watching in the Dallas market, while about 208,000 were watching in Western New York.

According to Nielsen, 71% of homes in Western New York that were watching television were turned in to the game. That’s called a share of the audience. The share in Dallas was 61%.

Smaller markets generally get higher ratings and shares.

The New Orleans market, which is No. 50 in the country, had a 52.5 rating and 76 share for the Saints’ 26-18 win over Atlanta on Thanksgiving Day. Buffalo was the No. 4 market for that prime-time game with a 15.3 rating on WGRZ-TV, the local NBC affiliate.

The rating for the Bills-Dallas game most likely was lower here than it has been for recent games for a few reasons.

The game started at 4:30 p.m., which was prime meal time for Thanksgiving dinners across the area.

(Believe it or not, not everyone adjusted their meal schedule to accommodate watching the Bills biggest victory in years.)

Additionally, there likely was more group viewing as people went to friends and relatives’ homes to watch rather than watch in their own homes.

According to CBS, the Bills-Cowboys game was CBS’ most-watched Thanksgiving Day game in 27 years and the most-watched regular-season game on any network in three years.

The broadcast averaged 32.538 million viewers, which was 22% higher than for the 2018 Thanksgiving Day game on CBS (Chicago-Detroit; 26.610 million) and 7% higher than the comparable game window in 2018 (Washington-Dallas; 30.524 million) on Fox.

The Bills-Cowboys game was the most-watched TV program since last year’s Super Bowl on CBS.

Some people incorrectly reported that the Bills-Cowboys game was the highest-rated in 27 years. The viewership for the game was impressive without exaggerating it.

There is a difference between “most watched” and “highest rated.” “Most watched” refers to viewers. Ratings refers to a percentage of households watching.

A program can have a lower household rating and still be most-watched if there are more viewers watching in each household.

Until the last several years, the number of TV households nationally was increasing annually, so each rating point was adjusted to be worth more households. So, a lower rating today can equal more viewers than a higher rating in many past years.

The Dallas-Washington game on Thanksgiving a year ago had a 12.5 rating on Fox. This year’s Buffalo-Dallas game had a 13.5 rating on CBS.

The previous most-watched Thanksgiving Day game on any network was for the Washington-Dallas game on Fox. It had 35.109 million viewers.

The previous most-watched game on CBS was the New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game in 1992. It had 33.790 million viewers. It was the highest-rated Thanksgiving game on CBS in 27 years with a 16.8 rating.

In other words, a game with a 13.5 rating today can have almost as many viewers as a game with a 16.8 rating in 1992.

The highest-rated Thanksgiving Day game in the last 27 years on any network was Miami against Dallas in 1993. It had an 18.6 rating.

The previous most-watched game in the last three years on any network was for Washington-Dallas – 35.109 million viewers on FOX – on Thanksgiving in 2016.

While we are addressing ratings, let’s explain the new rules that have delayed reporting ratings in Buffalo.

Buffalo remains one of the 56 metered markets, but only the top 44 markets get overnight ratings now. That is why ratings in Buffalo are delayed for two days or so.

In addition, the owner of WIVB-TV and sister station WNLO (CW 23) no longer subscribes to Nielsen.

Because of that, the audience research services firm prohibits WIVB’s rival stations – WGRZ, WKBW-TV and WUTV – from giving out ratings to prevent WIVB from getting them.

Undoubtedly, the Bills game this Sunday with the 10-2 Baltimore Ravens and quarterback Lamar Jackson should become the top-rated game locally of the season or close to it.

For those people wondering why the game hasn’t been flexed to this week’s NBC’s "Sunday Night Football," the scheduled game is a good one involving teams in bigger markets – 9-2 in Seattle against the 7-5 Los Angeles Rams. Baltimore is the No. 26 market.

In addition, the Ravens play the New York Jets four days after the Bills game on "Thursday Night Football" so a Sunday night game would be a quick, unfair turnaround for them.

The NFL’s decision to flex the Bills-Pittsburgh game Dec. 15 to prime time on "Sunday Night Football" made more sense after Sunday’s results.

The Los Angeles Chargers’ 23-20 loss to Denver Sunday left them at 4-8 and made their scheduled "SNF" game against Minnesota on Dec. 15 even more unattractive so it was moved to Sunday afternoon.

The Bills-Baltimore game did get a brief mention from play-by-play man Al Michaels at the end of New England’s 28-22 loss to Houston on "SNF."

“Man oh man, who would have ever figured that as a spotlight game,” said Michaels, speaking to the surprising seasons of the Bills and Ravens.


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