Patriots-Ravens Will Provide Best Drama (and Ratings) on Sunday's Emmy Night

Dan Levy@danlevythinksNational Lead WriterSeptember 21, 2012

"Who you got for Best Actor?"
"Who you got for Best Actor?"Al Bello/Getty Images

There are more than 300 million people in America. On any given Sunday night, nearly 10 percent of the entire country is watching NFL football. This Sunday, with the Patriots facing the Ravens, the Emmy Awards don't stand a chance. 

The bigger social media buzz late Sunday night may be focused on Walter White and Don Draper, but more televisions will surely be tuned into Tom Brady and Ray Lewis. Who can blame them, really? Award shows, even good ones like the Emmys, are stuffy, self-aggrandizing celebrations that only serve to remind regular folks of just how talented those people on TV really are. 

(Wait, that's different from the NFL how? Oh, right…helmets, pads and touchdown dances.)

To give an idea of just how many people consume what comes out of that rectangular box of magic we have as the centerpiece of the living room, there are more than 40 million Americans who will settle down to watch network television programs alone this Sunday night.

If we added up all the random, diverse, hole-in-the-wall cable channels, there will be somewhere in the neighborhood of one-third of the entire population of the United States glued to the boob tube on Sunday night. The other two-thirds are either asleep, stuck at work, stupid kids, really old people or all of the above.

Last season, the NFL had 23.4 million viewers on Emmy night, nearly double the 12.4 million pulled in by the Emmy Awards. If Sunday night is a celebration of television's biggest winners, the ratings will indicate that that isn't HBO or AMC or CBS; TV's biggest winner is always the NFL.

The NFL is king in prime time, more than doubling any other Sunday night program on a weekly basis. The fact that the Emmy Awards do more than half the NFL ratings is a huge win for whichever network has the ceremony that year.

This year, the Emmy Awards are on ABC, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, who will undoubtedly make at least three references to the Patriots and Ravens during the telecast. Kimmel may be the only award show host in America who will openly admit he would rather be watching football on NBC than hosting the Emmys on his network. (Note: Others probably agree, but Kimmel will admit it.)

I will be shocked if Kimmel doesn't give viewers score updates between presentations as a wink-wink, nudge-nudge to the industry's elite sitting there in tuxedos while they collectively get crushed by the NFL's faceless monsters in spandex.

Methinks Al Michaels will refrain from offering the same information to his audience, eschewing a recap of the nominees for Best Variety Series for a few more camera angles of Joe Flacco's footwork in the pocket.

Still, those of us with spouses or kids old enough to stay up into primetime know that in the eternal struggle for remote control supremacy, this Sunday is one of America's toughest nights to share.

"Go back, I want to see who won the award for Best Supporting Actor on Modern Family."

"Wait, the ref is just coming out of that hoodie contraption to tell us if Wes Welker had two feet in bounds. I can't tell you how big this is for my fantasy team."

That is an actual conversation that more than five million people in America will almost definitely have on Sunday night. With so many diverse fans of the NFL's product, there is bound to be some crossover with the award show audience.

The NFL really did the Emmys no favors by putting such a huge game on this weekend. The Patriots draw big television numbers, as they've become one of the transcendent national brands in the league. While the Ravens aren't the Steelers or Cowboys, they have a decent national draw for a roster sprinkled with household names.

Given the way ratings points are measured, it would not surprise anyone to see Sunday Night Football break yet another viewership record for the NFL at the same time the Emmy Awards boast of increased ratings over last year's telecast.

What the folks at Nielsen—and the networks whose bottom lines depend on those ratings—don't want us to know is that the ratings are totally skewed in favor of giving each show the highest possible overall viewer number. They juke the stats, to borrow a phrase from a now-popular show that never won an Emmy but probably should have.

Watching six minutes of an NFL game counts as being "a viewer" for the ratings. In theory, a Nielsen viewer—or any regular, run-of-the-mill digital TV consumer (because don't think for one second they aren't tracking what those of us with DVRs are watching and recording too)—can flip between the NFL game and the Emmys and count as a viewer for both shows at the same time.

Heck, if your significant other (or you; I won't judge) decides to keep up with the Kardashians while the game is on commercial and sticks around that channel for six minutes, you could very well count as three different people in the night's television ratings.

So maybe there aren't 100 million Americans watching TV this Sunday night. Maybe it will just be the same 30-40 million who check out whatever else is on between quarters or at halftime of the football game.

Of course, that realization only serves to resonate one important point: The NFL has a higher percentage of television viewers than the ratings actually indicate. If some of us count more than once for watching multiple shows, the percentage of actual human beings who have their televisions plugged in and turned on who are watching the NFL is higher than they make us believe.


For those of us who love football and love TV (and like award shows about TV), here is a simple way to look at what to do this weekend: There are 18 awards being given out at the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards and around 120 plays in the NFL game. If the average award takes three minutes to give out and accept, that's only 54 minutes, which leaves ample time for flipping back to the NFL to catch at least 80 of the game's plays. With DVR and commercials, it shouldn't be hard to watch every award and every play of the game.

Or, we could all get multiple televisions and watch both at the same time. That way, we can watch the Emmy Awards without missing even one fancy dress and watch the whole NFL game without missing so much as a sack dance.

As a plus, watching every minute of both events might make the ratings people go bonkers. There should be a shiny gold trophy for that.