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NFL draft is a ratings success

April 26, 2010 |  3:42 pm

"The Mentalist" was the most-watched television program last Thursday night, being seen by 14.9 million viewers, but that wasn't the big news.

ESPN's overwhelming coverage of the NFL draft, the first held during a weeknight prime-time period, was the sixth-most-watched show Thursday night, beating out traditional powerhouse programs such as "The Office" and "30 Rock" on NBC plus "Fringe" on Fox and "FlashForward" on ABC, according to the Nielsen Media Research. And let's not even talk about live NBA games on TNT (18th out of 20 shows but better than "Vampire Diaries" and "Malcolm in the Middle").

ESPN's draft coverage was seen by 7.2 million people Thursday night. Another million viewers watched draft coverage on the NFL Network.

Altogether, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday on ESPN and ESPN2, 45.4 million people watched the draft, a 16% increase from last year. 

Also registering a significant increase in traffic was the NFL Network, which drew 5.7 million viewers over three days, a 24% increase over a year ago, and which received 12.5 million visits during the draft, a 61% increase from a year ago.

You could almost follow the storylines via the ratings.

On Thursday night, ESPN's top market, viewing-wise, was Jacksonville, Fla. (home of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. The "Where will Tim Tebow go?" question was dominant). The second-biggest market was New Orleans, followed by Austin, Texas, (home of University of Texas and quarterback Colt McCoy), Cleveland and Oklahoma City (plenty of Oklahoma-based interest in quarterback Sam Bradford). The Los Angeles market was 53rd out of 56 metered markets (because, well, most of us were at work).

On Friday, during the 3 to 4 p.m. PDT time slot on ESPN, Cleveland did the best, followed by New Orleans, Kansas City, Columbus (home of Ohio State) and Austin. Los Angeles was 56th (because, well, most of us were still at work). During ESPN2's coverage from 4-7:30 p.m. PDT, Greenville, S.C., was first, followed by Washington, D.C.; Portland, Ore.; Hartford/New Haven, Conn.; and Birmingham, Ala. Los Angeles was 52nd (some of us had arrived home).

For Saturday's ESPN coverage, from 7 a.m. until 2:19 p.m. PDT, Phoenix was first, followed by Dayton, Ohio; Tampa/St. Petersburg; Houston; and Atlanta. Los Angeles was 10th (we were catching up).

-- Diane Pucin