The 4:25 p.m. ET window for National Football League games is the most coveted real estate in all of content. As CBS proudly boasted in a press release last January, the NFL on CBS national game at that time averaged 24.637 million viewers for its 10 Sunday afternoon windows, more than any other sports, entertainment or news series on any network.

That number gnawed at the executives at Fox Sports for months because for more than a decade Fox had owned the top spot in regular-season viewership in the 4:25 p.m. window. In 2023, Fox averaged 24.632 million viewers in the afternoon slot. That’s how tight it was.

So Fox Sports went into planning for the 2024 NFL season with a definitive goal: Reclaim the top spot.

With the hopes of achieving that prize, Fox asked its partners at the NFL to load up the early season with games that can draw huge audiences. The result? Fox will air the Dallas Cowboys at the Cleveland Browns in Week 1, the Baltimore Ravens at the Cowboys in Week 3, the Detroit Lions at the Cowboys in Week 6, and the big prize, a Week 7 Super Bowl rematch between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. (Here is the full Fox schedule.)

“We couldn’t be happier,” said Mike Mulvihill, the head of insights and analytics for Fox Sports and the person who runs point for his network on the schedule. “I think our 4:25 window came up exceptionally strong. That’s the No. 1 show on TV for a lot of years, and we narrowly missed it last year. Our intention is to regain the No. 1 spot this year, and I think they really took care of us at 4:25.

“We had a lot of conversation with the league about the fact that we got off to kind of a slow start ratings-wise last year. We were in a hole early, and we never completely got out of it. So we really wanted to emphasize a stronger start and a better September. You look at those games through the first seven weeks and we are starting monstrous. I feel like our 4:25 story at midseason should be really strong. Then we have (Green Bay) Packers and Niners (Week 12) and finish with Dallas-(Philadelphia Eagles) in Week 17. We feel really good about our showcase window.”

Some additional media-centric NFL schedule release thoughts:

2. Tom Brady’s Fox regular-season debut was always going to draw curiosity seekers no matter when it aired, but Fox and the NFL set up his debut game to have massive viewership because it features the Cowboys against the Browns in an exclusive national Sunday afternoon window on Week 1. There will be no CBS competition. Fox will also air the Washington–Tampa Bay game in that time slot, but it will go to less than 10 percent of the country.

Once upon a time, networks could place a high-profile hire on a lower broadcast team to gain reps and learn the mechanics of television. That is no longer the case given the salary expenditure for top talent. Brady does not have to have a Tony Romo-like debut, but he will need to be insightful in Week 1 and avoid any major mistakes.

3. CBS comes into this season with serious viewership momentum. Last year was the most-watched regular season since the NFL returned to CBS in 1998, averaging 19.345 million viewers. Paramount+ delivered its most-streamed NFL season ever. The postseason also set records every week.

“That was just a remarkable achievement, and I think it paints a story of where the NFL is, where our broadcast TV distribution still is, and that’s the momentum we have heading into the season,” said CBS Sports president David Berson. “As far as this year’s schedule, we are thrilled. We will have a minimum of eight games from teams such as the Chiefs, (Pittsburgh) Steelers, Ravens, and (Buffalo) Bills. That’s twice as much as any other network will have of those teams. … With the new scheduling model, it also enables us to have great exposure of marquee NFC franchises. I mean, in addition to all that AFC stuff, we have Dallas-Philly and multiple marquee appearances from the Packers, the Niners. We have the Eagles three times in the big 4:25 window.”

4. CBS has 10 national Sunday doubleheader windows this season, starting in Week 2 with the Chiefs hosting the Cincinnati Bengals. That schedule also includes Chiefs-Bills (Week 11), Eagles-Ravens (Week 13), Bills-Lions (Week 15), Eagles-Cowboys (Week 10) and Packers-L.A. Rams (Week 5). CBS will finish the regular season with a national doubleheader in three of the final four weeks. So it’s game-on against Fox.

“The 4:25 window is the biggest time slot in all of media,” said Berson. “… That’s the crown jewel. We led the way with that last year, and we’re thrilled that our 4:25 slate again this year is fantastic.”

5. Wednesday represented a seismic shift with the announcement that Netflix has landed exclusive rights to stream two NFL games on Christmas Day 2024 — the Chiefs vs. the Steelers and the Ravens vs. the Houston Texans. The three-season deal also includes a game on Christmas Day in 2025 and 2026. These games will air on broadcast TV in the competing team cities and also will be available on U.S. mobile devices with NFL+. I wrote a column about Netflix moving into the NFL yesterday if you missed it.


Netflix gets NFL Christmas Day games, a fire-breathing shot at its competitors

6. The most in-demand game by the media partners based on potential viewership? I heard it was either Chiefs-49ers or Cowboys-49ers. Chiefs-Bills was also a top 5.

7. Mulvihill said Fox will benefit from having the viewership power of Dallas much more earlier in the season.

“The last couple of years we didn’t see Dallas until maybe Week 4, and now we’ve got them in the first three weeks of the season,” Mulvihill said. “So it means, obviously, strong games but also getting back to a traditional doubleheader format in Week 1. We had a couple of years in a row where both Fox and CBS had a doubleheader in Week 1. This year that double doubleheader week shuffles back to Week 15, which I think will actually be a much better place for it.”

8. The alphabet soup of places airing NFL games in 2024? ABC, Amazon Prime, CBS, Fox, ESPN, ESPN+, NBC, Netflix, NFL Network, Peacock and Sunday Ticket. Have your wallets ready.

9. Berson had nothing but positive things to say about Netflix joining the NFL’s game inventory partners.

“Good for them, and I think it points to the strength of the NFL,” he said. “Keep in mind, Netflix getting these games in no way impacts our schedule, our deal at all. It’s going to raise the profile of the NFL and make and potentially attract different fans. Regardless of whether Netflix is in or out, we have 100-plus regular season games, we have 10 doubleheaders, we have Thanksgiving, we have the playoffs, we have all those AFC quarterbacks. So welcome to the party.”

10. ESPN has an interesting schedule on paper, including the New York Jets at 49ers in Week 1, which is highlighted by the return of Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers. There’s also Texans-Cowboys in Week 11, Bengals-Cowboys in Week 14, Lions-49ers in Week 17 and the Harbaugh Brothers facing each other in Week 12. All told, the schedule features 25 games, including 21 “Monday Night Football” matchups.

One interesting quirk: The L.A. Chargers at Arizona Cardinals game on Oct. 21 will air on ESPN+ at 9 p.m. ET while the Ravens at Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicks off at 8:15 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN Deportes. There are three ABC-exclusive games and multiple games on Mondays in Weeks 3, 4, 7, and 15.

Rosalyn Durant, the executive vice president, programming and acquisitions for ESPN, said Wednesday night that the company did well having the Niners bookend the schedule with the Week 1 and Week 17 games.

“We think we have great games throughout the season,” Durant said. “We have the Cowboys twice and the Super Bowl champions (Chiefs) twice. We feel good about what we have.”

For the second straight year, the Jets open Monday night on ESPN. Aaron Rodgers suffered a season-ending injury four plays into the game in 2023. (Michael Owens / Getty Images)

11. The lead-in for Fox’s high-profile showdown on Dec. 21 between USC (JuJu Watkins) and UConn (Paige Bueckers) in women’s basketball will be Steelers-Ravens. That’s a big-time lead-in and will help produce mega-viewership for the women’s game.

12. The Kickoff Game is always an interesting viewership metric given the pent-up demand for the start of the NFL season. Last year’s Lions-Chiefs game on NBC averaged 27.5 million viewers, up 24 percent over Bills-Rams in 2022 (21.7 million). That matched the Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints viewership in 2010, though viewership today captures more out-of-home viewing than it did 14 years ago. This year’s Ravens-Chiefs game, a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship Game, has a legit chance to set the all-time Kickoff Game mark given the two teams. At a minimum, it should surpass the 25 million mark.

13. NBCUniversal gets to claim a first in Week 1 by being the first media company to air three prime NFL regular-season games in four nights. The Kickoff Game will air on NBC and Peacock on Sept. 5. The next night, Peacock will air an exclusive game from São Paulo, Brazil — a great matchup featuring the Packers and Eagles. Then comes the season debut of “Sunday Night Football” on Sept. 8 with the Rams at the Lions.

14. Staffers from around the NFL rights-holder partners thought Netflix did very well by getting Chiefs-Steelers and Ravens-Texans. One network executive said Chiefs-Steelers was a top-10 viewership game on their wish list.

15. One of the interesting questions about the Netflix deal is who will produce and call the games as Netflix does not have an infrastructure at the moment to put on the NFL the way the other rightsholders do. Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina had NFL vice president of broadcast planning Mike North on his podcast Thursday morning and asked North how he saw it. The NFL executive said those decisions will come in the future, but he did provide some interesting hypotheticals. The decision is going to come from a combination of Netflix and NFL officials.

They obviously acknowledge that they’re going to need somebody to produce and direct it and point cameras at the field and get it on television,” North said. “But I wouldn’t doubt for a second when we get to December 25, it’s going to look and sound like an NFL football game. They’re probably going to end up working with existing NFL crews, existing NFL talent, similar to the way Amazon (did) when they picked up the NFL rights a few years ago. They didn’t have a remote production house. They didn’t have people on staff. So they went and hired NBC.

“My best guess? Probably CBS and Fox on a Sunday afternoon. They’ve got a lot of crews, a lot of good crews. The talent might be a little bit different. You might hire the producer or the director and the camera guys and the sound guys, but the talent, you could probably go in a lot of different directions. I’m sure you’re going to have some regular names that, you know, we’re used to seeing, whether it’s NFL Network talent or former players. Maybe there’s some guys coming out of retirement, coming out of other network broadcast booths. Maybe it’s guys we haven’t heard of. I’m sure there’s time to figure that out, but I would feel pretty confident as we sit here today that it’s going to look and sound like an NFL game by the time we get there.”

16. Berson said CBS wanted to maximize the big AFC brands, and the Chiefs were a major priority. Kansas City is scheduled to appear a minimum of eight times on CBS, at least twice as many games as any other network. They’ll have at least four on CBS in the 4:25 p.m. ET window.

“We really wanted the Chiefs against the Bills (Nov. 17), the rematch of that epic divisional game,” Berson said. “This is a huge rivalry. We really identified that as our top game because as the home of the AFC, we’ve told that story and we want to continue to tell that story. We’re thrilled that we will do so again. We also love the idea of the Chiefs and Bengals (Sept. 15).”

17. The Packers-Eagles game on Sept. 6 from Brazil will be the third Peacock exclusive NFL game following the Bills-Chargers regular-season game in December 2023 and the Miami Dolphins at Chiefs AFC wild-card game in January 2024. The game will be broadcast on NBC stations in Green Bay, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia.

18. Fox’s Mulvihill spoke about early season momentum, and Amazon Prime Video execs are certainly happy with the start of its season. They open with Bills-Dolphins on Sept. 12 — a game that should do very well viewership-wise — and two weeks later get the Cowboys at the New York Giants. They also have the Jets’ home opener (against the New England Patriots) sandwiched in between, and assuming Aaron Rodgers is in that game, the interest should be high. The Black Friday game for the network features the Chiefs hosting the Raiders on Nov. 29. Additional highlights include a schedule featuring all 14 playoff teams from last season. The company will also air its first-ever NFL postseason game. It’s a decent schedule for the package.

19. The Athletic has an easy-t0-digest week-by-week file here that includes TV broadcasts and times.

20. The always great 506 Sports has you covered with a chart of the national games.

(Top photo of the 49ers’ Fred Warner and the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes during the coin toss before Super Bowl LVIII in February: Perry Knotts / Getty Images)