Both New Year's Eve College Football Playoff semifinals drew a bigger television and online audience than the games last season, but there were still far fewer people watching the games than when they were played on New Year's Day two seasons ago.
The Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl semifinals on Saturday together drew a total live audience of 19.7 million and an 11.0 overnight TV rating, ESPN said Sunday. According to the network, the total viewers increased by 14 percent from last season's semifinals, which also were played on New Year's Eve.
Alabama's 24-7 Peach Bowl victory against Washington, which kicked off around 3:15 p.m. ET, drew an 11.5 overnight rating for ESPN and ESPN2 and 19.8 million total viewers, including those who streamed the game online. The total audience increased 24 percent compared to last season's early semifinal, Oklahoma-Clemson.
Clemson's 31-0 win over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, which kicked off around 7:15 p.m. ET, had a total live audience of 19.6 million and got a 10.5 overnight rating, ESPN said. The audience increased 4 percent from the late time slot last season, when Alabama shut out Michigan State.
ESPN said the TV-only audiences were up 23 percent for the early game and 3 percent for the late game, and both games set streaming records. Both games, like last season, were blowouts, making it difficult to reach the marks set in the playoff's first year.
"It's nice to know that more people watched the semifinals this year than last year," said Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff. "Nice to know that the format change we made last year -- that the semifinals will be either on a Saturday or national holiday -- will allow more people to watch the games."
After ratings and viewership plunged by 34 percent from the first playoff to the second, conference commissioners who manage the postseason system decided to move future dates for semifinals off New Year's Eve when it falls on a weekday.
This year's games were also played an hour earlier, so the later game didn't bump up against the stroke of midnight on the East Coast.
The original plan for the College Football Playoff was to play the semifinals on New Year's Eve eight times during a 12-year contract with ESPN that pays $470 million annually. The revised schedule moved games off that date to they could be played on Saturdays in 2018, 2019, 2024 and 2025.
Another scheduling move paid off for ESPN and the CFP this season. The Orange Bowl was originally set to be played in the early afternoon on Saturday, but was instead pushed back to Friday night. Florida State's 33-32 win over Michigan drew 11.7 million viewers, making it the second-most-watched non-playoff game this season behind Michigan-Ohio State on Nov. 26.
Total viewership for the New Year's Six bowls is up 27 percent. The Cotton, Rose and Sugar bowls will be played Monday and all broadcast on ESPN.
Next season, the semifinals move back to New Year's Day at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl.
Total TV viewership for the first College Football Playoff semifinals, which matched Heisman Trophy winners Jameis Winston of Florida State and Marcus Mariota of Oregon in the Rose Bowl and Ohio State and Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, was approximately 28.3 million. Last year it was about 18.6 million.