NFL, Nielsen Study Finds 20M Additional People Viewed Thanksgiving Day Football

(Image credit: Getty Images)

NEW YORK—The National Football League (NFL) and Nielsen have completed a custom study of viewership for NFL football on Thanksgiving Day, particularly in group settings, that found each game reached an average of more than 20 million additional viewers, raising the average-minute audience to 44.1 million. 

That is a 31% increase from the 33.6 million initially reported.

Late last month, it was reported that the telecasts of the games were the most-watched NFL Thanksgiving Day on record. Cowboys-Giants was the most-watched regular-season NFL game of all-time, Lions-Bills broke a Thanksgiving Day early-window record, and Vikings-Patriots was the second-best Thanksgiving primetime game on record.

Those Nielsen numbers showed a total unduplicated audience across all three games of 138 million, making them the highest Thanksgiving total audience on record, surpassing the previous high of 126 million in 2016 and is up +34% vs. 2021 (103 million).

The new study found, however, that even those record numbers seriously underestimated total viewing and by implication raised more questions about Nielsen’s audience data, which has been under fire by many industry players

The NFL and Nielsen reported that the new figures showcase the unique nature of Thanksgiving Day football, which for football fans has become intrinsically intertwined with a national holiday that brings families and friends together for a day of appreciation and gratitude. Many watch in larger-than-normal group settings such as an extended family member or friend's home, bar, or restaurant.

"Quantifying the exact number of people watching NFL games on Thanksgiving presents additional challenges due to the fact that so many people gather in different group settings with family and friends," said Paul Ballew, chief data and analytics officer of the NFL. "As was the case with our study around the Super Bowl, we feel this Nielsen custom survey helps provide a more complete picture of the total viewership for this unique day on the NFL calendar."

Nielsen measures out-of-home in locations - such as bars and restaurants - across about 65% of the United States and its co-viewing measurement covers groups of up to 16 people in households across the entire country.

"The tradition of family gatherings and NFL football on Thanksgiving Day is endemic to American culture," said Jon Stainer, Nielsen Sports managing director for the Americas. "We're honored to continue working with the NFL on this custom study to help them better understand the size and behaviors of group viewing parties outside our co-viewing measurement."

The custom survey of 5,800 households, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago using the AmeriSpeak panel, examined the size of viewing groups at any location and to what extent those groups are larger than that which is measured today. This is the same study used when Nielsen announced an estimated 208-million-plus viewers watched Super Bowl LVI via a custom study with the NFL, the companies explained. 

George Winslow

George Winslow is the senior content producer for TV Tech. He has written about the television, media and technology industries for nearly 30 years for such publications as Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and TV Tech. Over the years, he has edited a number of magazines, including Multichannel News International and World Screen, and moderated panels at such major industry events as NAB and MIP TV. He has published two books and dozens of encyclopedia articles on such subjects as the media, New York City history and economics.