Serena Williams’ departure from the US Open is a ratings boon for ESPN

NEW YORK (AP) – Serena Williams’ long departure from the US Open proved to be a boon for ESPN.

Facing the possibility of a first-round knockout, Williams instead gave the sports network four nights of prime-time programming last week, with her eventual Loss to Ajla Tomljanovic Reaching the largest audience of any tennis match in ESPN’s 43-year history.

ESPN adapted on the fly, asking Open officials to move Williams’ doubles game with her sister Venus to Thursday night and move a college football game from the main network on Friday to make room for the game with Tomljanovic.

That Friday game drew 4.8 million viewers and peaked at 6.9 million, the company said, Nielsen. It beat the previous record holder, the 2012 Wimbledon men’s final between Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

“We knew it was going to be a big story,” ESPN director of programming John Sucheski said Wednesday. “I’m not sure we knew how much it would affect the audience. Of course we are excited about the numbers.”

Williams’ first round win over Danka Kovinic last Monday, along with a post-game ceremony, was seen by 2.7 million people — or 289% more than comparable first-round coverage in 2021, Nielsen said. Wednesdays Victory over Anett Kontaveit reached 3.6 million. Thursday’s sister act, the first time ESPN has shown a prime-time doubles game, averaged 2.2 million.

Sucheski said he’s hoping for a “halo effect” that would boost the Open’s ratings for a second week without Williams, but ESPN is aware of the reality.

“The first week was the Serena Open,” tennis analyst John McEnroe said during Sunday’s coverage. “Now it’s the US Open.”

Among last week’s television channels, ABC led the way with an average of 4.2 million prime-time viewers. NBC had 2.63 million, CBS had 2.56 million, Fox had 1.6 million, Univision had 1.1 million, Ion Television had 1 million, and Telemundo had 860,000.

ESPN led all cable networks with an average of 2.58 million, Fox News had 2.1 million, MSNBC had 1.36 million, HGTV had 870,000, and the US had 842,000.

That Streaming Debut of Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power reached an estimated 1.8 million US households last weekend, according to Samba TV. That marks Amazon Prime’s biggest debut this year, the research firm said.

ABC’s World News Tonight won the nightly news ratings race last week with 7.2 million viewers, Nielsen said. NBC’s Nightly News had 6 million and CBS Evening News had 4.1 million.

For the week of Aug. 29-Sept. 4, the 20 most-watched prime-time shows, their networks and viewership:

1. College Football: Notre Dame, Ohio, ABC, 10.53 million.

2. College Football: Florida St. at LSU, ABC, 7.55 million.

3. America’s Got Talent (Tuesday), NBC, 6.36 million.

4. “America’s Got Talent” (Wednesday), NBC, 5.48 million.

5. “60 Minutes”, CBS, 5.12 million.

6. US Open Tennis (Friday), ESPN, 4.56 million.

7. “Password,” NBC, 3.92 million.

8. “Big Brother” (Wednesday), CBS, 3.8 million.

9. “FBI”, CBS, 3.7 million.

10. “Big Brother” (Thursday), CBS, 3.68 million.

11. College Football: Penn State at Purdue, Fox, 3.51 million.

12. “Tucker Carlson Tonight” (Monday), Fox News, 3.39 million.

13. “Bachelorette: Men Tell Everything,” ABC, 3.32 million.

14. “Press Your Luck,” ABC, 3.294 million.

15. “Tucker Carlson Tonight” (Tuesday), Fox News, 3.288 million.

16. “Big Brother” (Sunday), CBS, 3.27 million.

17. “Young Sheldon,” CBS, 3.208 million.

18. “The Neighborhood,” CBS, 3.206 million.

19. College Football: West Virginia in Pittsburgh, ESPN, 3.15 million.

20. “American Ninja Warrior,” NBC, 3.14 million.

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