by Rob Toledo Rob Toledo

It has been one of the most common complaints among NFL viewers for the past several seasons: There are too many commercial breaks.

But despite analysis showing that over the past few years, the number of commercials per game has stayed fairly flat, the perception has become that the number of ads has gone up. Our hunch leads us to believe that the way people are consuming content has changed drastically over the past five years, turning this into more of a perception issue. When it’s possible to watch our favorite shows on Netflix ad-free, to tune into an NFL game on a normal television broadcast makes it seem like it’s nothing but commercials these days.

Our analysis after the completion of the 2017-18 season is that the NFL and the major television networks have reduced the number of commercials during game time by approximately 10 minutes per broadcast.

We reported back after the season’s opening weekend that there was an immediately noticeable reduction in the number of ads per game, something that the league has been willing to test with broadcasters. As ratings have fallen for a variety of reasons this season, the league seems more willing to experiment.

We continued to run our analysis across the full 2017-18 season to see if this would remain true or if it was just opening weekend changes and found that it did in fact remain consistent across all of the networks.

Below is a breakdown of each network:

  • CBS and FOX saw an average decrease of 11.7 minutes of commercials per NFL game.
  • ESPN saw an average decrease of 8.8 minutes of commercials per NFL game.
  • NBC saw an average decrease of 7.4 minutes of commercials per NFL game.

These numbers were pulled from a select number of games across each network throughout the season and averaged. It does make sense that CBS and FOX could afford to decrease the numbers slightly more, broadcasting more regional games, and sharing slot time with one another, their contracts are less expensive on a per game basis, while ESPN and NBC pay a premium to broadcast a weekly prime time game.

A few things of note. We were asked by several readers during our opening weekend analysis if we included the split screen advertisements as a commercial or game broadcast. We are officially including those as game broadcast. Our reasoning for this is that as a viewer we had a choice to watch game footage and were not being forced to watch a commercial.

There is no official word yet as to whether or not this trend will continue into next season. But with a continued decline in viewership, it seems likely that the NFL will take this one of two ways, either increase short term revenue with increased advertising, or perhaps attempt to branch into new broadcasting methods more aggressively, offering easier streaming packages, another trend we continue to see increasing, lower advertising dollars but at a bigger scale.