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College football tends to be a consistent ratings-grabber for any network, and ESPN has been making the most of the sport's popularity. The channel finished 2016 by airing two Playoff Semifinals games on New Year's Eve, with Alabama facing off against Washington and Ohio State battling it out against Clemson. The day turned out poorly for Washington and Ohio State, but it was pretty fabulous for ESPN as both games set streaming records for the network.
The Alabama v. Washington game aired at 3 p.m. ET on December 31, and 11.5 million people tuned in on ESPN and ESPN2. The number was bolstered by the streaming viewership, which added an extra 470,000 viewers on average per minute to the overall tally. Additionally, more than 1,378,000 unique visitors checked out the game at some point. The bump took took average streaming per minute audience by 57%, unique viewers up by 16%, and total minutes watched by 40%.
The Ohio State v. Clemson game aired at 7 p.m. ET, and although it performed less fantastically than the earlier game, the numbers were still quite impressive for ESPN. 10.5 million football fans tuned in on ESPN and ESPN2, with an additional 410,000 viewers on average per minute streaming. The game tallied 1,174,000 unique viewers. Overall, the streaming increase was 29% in average audience per minute, 12% in unique viewers, and 32% in total minutes over the equivalent game in 2015.
Both Alabama v. Washington and Ohio State v. Clemson scored high enough numbers on streaming to become the most-streamed College Football Playoff Semifinals ever, according to Deadline. For a network that jumped on the streaming bandwagon somewhat late in the game, ESPN is doing incredibly well for itself on the platform. All in all, ESPN ended 2016 on a very high note.
ESPN has been in need of some good news when it comes to numbers over the past year or so. Ratings for some of the network's biggest shows were significantly down at the end of 2015, with competing networks Fox Sports 1 and NBCSN growing by double digits. Hundreds of jobs at ESPN had to be eliminated. Then, in November 2016, ESPN's parent company Disney reported a record high number of subscription cancellations for ESPN.
Of course, as fantastic as the streaming numbers are for ESPN, they represent a small fraction of the whole viewership. Still, considering that ESPN lost more than 600,000 subscribers in the month of October 2016 alone, the boosts in streaming viewership could mean an awful lot for the network and some of its biggest problems. We'll have to wait and see if ESPN's streaming numbers manage to hold steady in the coming weeks. The 2016 - 2017 college football season comes to an end in the very near future, and so ESPN may see a change in viewership. Only time will tell.
Take a look at our midseason TV premiere schedule to see what you can watch in the new year on networks other than ESPN.