'Sunday Night Football' Topples 'American Idol' Ratings Dominance

For the first time in eight years, a sports franchise will finish the season as the No. 1 primetime program.

With Wednesday night’s American Idol finale hitting a series low and sports programming increasingly emerging as the surest thing in a time-shifted TV universe, NBC’s Sunday Night Football finished the 2011-12 television season as the dominant primetime program in total viewers and all key audience demographics.

The NBC Sports franchise averaged 20.7 million viewers this season and an 8.0 rating in the 18-49 demographic coveted by ad buyers.

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Idol averaged a 6.1 rating on Wednesdays and will likely rise to a 6.2 rating when final numbers for the finale are in. Among total viewers, Idol's Wednesday telecasts averaged 19.7 million viewers for the season and 18.3 million on Thursdays. Idol is down 29 percent this season in the demo. The show wrapped its 11th iteration Wednesday with 21.5 million viewers and a 6.3 demo rating. That’s down 32 percent year-over-year.

Sunday Night Football, meanwhile, matched its season-over-season demo rating and is actually down a tick (1 percent) among total viewers. But the season average does not include key early games that were played before the start of the TV season in mid-September.

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Football will help boost NBC to a third-place finish for the season, though Fox will still prevail among viewers 18-49 and CBS will again be the most-watched network.

In December, the NFL pre-emptively renewed TV rights deals with CBS, Fox and NBC for nine years through 2022 at an average increase of 7 percent per network. The deal will take revenue for the NFL from $1.93 billion annually to $3.1 billion by 2022.

ESPN also renewed its NFL deal through 2021.

Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com

Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie