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Lakers and Heat’s NBA Finals TV ratings are recent winners but historic losers

The Lakers' LeBron James and the Miami Heat's Kelly Olynyk fight for control for the ball.
Ratings for the NBA Finals have slipped. The Lakers’ LeBron James and Miami Heat’s Kelly Olynyk battle for the ball in Game 3.
(Associated Press)

Each of the first three games of the NBA Finals successively had the smallest audience of any finals game on record, continuing the trend of record lows for sporting events held at nontraditional times.

ABC’s coverage of Game 1 of the series between the Lakers and Miami Heat averaged 7.576 million viewers Wednesday, 6.909 million for Game 2 Friday and 5.935 million for Game 3 Sunday, according to live-plus-same-day figures Nielsen released Tuesday.

The previous low was 8.06 million for Game 2 of the 2003 finals between the San Antonio Spurs and New Jersey Nets.

Records are available dating back to 1988. The NBA Finals have annually aired on ABC since 2003. They aired on NBC from 1991-2002 and CBS from 1974-90.

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The NBA Finals faced unprecedented sports competition.

Game 1 aired opposite two Major League Baseball playoff games. ESPN averaged 2.535 million viewers for the New York Yankees’ 10-9 victory over the Cleveland Indians in the longest nine-inning game in major league history: four hours, 50 minutes. (The game length did not include the 76-minute rain delay.)

The Dodgers’ 4-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, which mainly aired on ESPN 2, averaged 1.09 million.

Game 3 Sunday began 55 minutes before NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” game between the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers, which averaged 15.084 million viewers, second among prime-time programs between Sept. 28 and Sunday.

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Despite the record lows, both Game 1 and Game 2 were Wednesday and Friday’s most-watched programs. Game 3 was fifth Sunday behind “Sunday Night Football,” the CBS News magazine “60 Minutes,” the nine-minute “Sunday Night Football” pre-kickoff show and 22-minute third segment of NBC’s “Football Night in America.”

Fox’s “The Masked Singer” was the week’s top rated entertainment program, averaging 6.94 million viewers, 20th overall, one spot ahead of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” which averaged 6.879 million.

CBS had both of the week’s biggest audiences for scripted programs, reruns of “The Neighborhood” and “Blue Bloods”, which averaged 3.404 million and 3.169 million, 30st and 31st among broadcast programs. Their overall rankings are not available.

The premiere of the Jane Lynch-hosted version of the NBC game show “The Weakest Link” averaged 5.936 million viewers, second in its 8-9 p.m. time slot last Tuesday behind “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” 24th for the week and third among entertainment programs.

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The original U.S. version aired in prime time on NBC from 2001-02 and was hosted by Anne Robinson, who also hosted the British version.

The week’s other premiere, the ABC alternative series about emergency call takers, “Emergency Call,” averaged 3.881 million viewers, second in its 10-11 p.m. time slot Sept. 28, 48th for the week and 20th among non-sports and non-debate-related programming.

ABC’s first-place finish for the Tuesday presidential debate among the broadcast networks enabled it to finish first in the network race, averaging 5.51 million viewers. Fox News Channel, was second overall, averaging 5.175 million viewers.

More viewers watched the debate on Fox News Channel than anywhere else: 17.883 million. ABC was second, averaging 12.651 million viewers; followed by NBC, which averaged 9.685 million; CNN, which averaged 8.33 million; MSNBC, which averaged 7.21 million; CBS, which averaged 6.402 million viewers; and Fox, which averaged 5.446 million.

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NBC was third overall in the network race, averaging 4.84 million, followed by CBS, which averaged 4.16 million. CBS’ average was bolstered by the 42-minute runover of its afternoon NFL coverage into prime time in the Eastern and Central time zones; that averaged 21.13 million viewers.

Fox News Channel was the most-watched cable network for the 36th time in 37 weeks, averaging 5.175 million viewers. ESPN was second for the third consecutive week, averaging 3.896 million; CNN third, averaging 2.848 million; and MSNBC fourth, averaging 2.8 million.


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