Primetime was certainly the right time for the NFL Draft.
The pro football league's 75th annual college player selection event scored an average viewership of 8.3 million viewers on ESPN and NFL Network, according to Nielsen data. The record audience came as the NFL split the draft into three segments, with its first-round picks kicking off at 7:30 p.m. (ET) and then occupying the remainder of East Coast primetime for the first time in its history.
The combined average viewership represented a 33% gain over last year's draft, which averaged 6.3 million from 4 p.m. through 7:30 p.m. on Saturday April 25, 2009, and a 41% advance from the 5.9 million from the 2008 event, which aired on a Saturday from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
A breakdown showed that ESPN averaged 7.3 million viewers for its telecast, up from 5.5 million for the first round last year, while the NFL Network tackled 1 million viewers, versus 800,000 for the first round in 2009.
During the primetime window from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., the NFL Draft scored with an average of 8.7 million average viewers, besting all networks other than CBS's primetime lineup, which counted 13.4 million, according to Nielsen.
In addition, more people on average tuned into the 75th Draft than watched such entertainments series as ABC's Private Practice and NBC's The Office, as well as TNT's coverage of Game 3 of the first-round NBA playoff series between the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder, which netted 3.9 million watchers.
On a cume basis, the first round of the draft drew a record viewership of 23.3 million viewers on ESPN and NFL Network, up 48% from last year's 15.7 million, according to Nielsen.