September Audience Insights: Sports Viewing Helps Cable Cap Off Solid Q3

10.29.2020 David Gustafson

Back in September 2005, Green Day was climbing the Billboard Hot 100 charts with an eventual Top 10 smash that included this perspective on the ninth month of the year:

Seven years has gone so fast

Wake me up when September ends

On some days and in some ways, the past seven months of 2020 can feel like seven years. Waking up today, we realize September has ended, October is all but in the rearview mirror, leaves are falling, clocks are turning back, and political campaigns are winding down. But before we don our masks and join Guns N’ Roses for a socially distanced walk in the cold November rain, let’s take one more look back at September.

With a nod to Earth, Wind & Fire, here are three key TV audience insights, as we explore the question, Do you remember…watching TV in September?(1)  


After a pandemic-influenced peak in April that saw Cox video households average more than eight hours per day of television viewing, overall TV viewing within the Cox footprint declined in May and June, as stay-at-home orders were lifted and spring gave way to warmer summer weather. September, though, capped a strong third quarter, marking a third straight month of increased viewership, based on Cox Media custom analysis of Cox Communications data. During the September broadcast month, Cox homes tuned in for a daily average of 7 hours, 34 minutes (7:34) of TV time – surpassing January’s pre-pandemic viewing mark to rank as the second-highest month of 2020 to date.(2)


Like the overall TV viewership trend, viewing to Cable News networks also peaked in April when more Americans were home more of the time. While the average amount of time U.S. TV households spend watching Cable News networks has declined from that April high, Cable News numbers remain elevated compared to pre-pandemic levels – with September up 20% vs. January, based on Cox Media analysis of Comscore national data. Cable Sports networks, meanwhile, have been on a very different trajectory this year. Following steady declines in time spent viewing throughout second quarter when most major sports were suspended, Cable Sports networks began to rebound in third quarter as live sports events returned. September marked the second straight month that overall U.S. viewing to Cable Sports networks surpassed 1 billion hours – up nearly 39% vs. August and nearly equaling January’s pre-pandemic benchmark.(3)


Not surprisingly, the September migration back to live sports programming also was evident among the Cox video homes that have historically viewed the largest amounts of Cable News and Cable Sports content. Throughout third quarter, this group of “super” viewers steadily shifted a larger share of overall Cable viewing time back to Sports networks. The group’s 20% Sports viewing share for September was the highest since February – and nearly doubled their average Sports share from second quarter, based on Cox Media custom analysis of Cox Communications data.(4)

Undoubtedly, the regularly scheduled return of the NFL played a big part in September’s sports viewing surge. Based on Cox Media analysis of Nielsen national data, ESPN’s Monday Night Football and NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football combined to claim five of September’s ten most-watched Cable telecasts among the key Adults 18-49 viewing audience. Pandemic-delayed NBA playoff games rounded out the rest of the September top ten, as sports fans continued navigating uncharted waters in the midst of unprecedented times.(5)

For the last word on the final month of third quarter, we’ll turn to the classic “September Morn” from Neil Diamond:

And look how far we’ve come

So far from where we used to be

But not so far that we’ve forgotten

How it was before(6)

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  1. Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends” peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in Oct. 2005 (; other songs referenced are “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses and “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire.
  2. Cox Media custom analysis of anonymized, privacy-compliant tuning data from Cox Communications video households, aggregated across full footprint; data processed by Comscore and accessed via TV Essentials platform; live linear TV; total day (6a-6a); monthly totals averaged based on number of days in broadcast month. 
  3. Cox Media analysis of Comscore syndicated national viewing estimates via TV Essentials; Total HH Hours Viewed; Live; Jan-Sep 2020 broadcast months; News reflects sum of hours for BTV, CNBC, CNN, FBN, FXNC, HLN, MSNBC, TWC; Sports reflects sum of hours for CBSS, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, FS1, GOLF, MLBN, NBAT, NBCS, NFLN, NHLN, TENN (regional sports networks not included).
  4. Cox Media custom analysis of anonymized, privacy-compliant linear TV audience data from Cox Communications; control cohort represents “heavy” Sports & News viewers (i.e., households within Cox footprint ranking highest for overall viewing to News networks and Sports networks based on Jan-Feb 2020 TV viewing levels); figures reflect distribution of control group’s total viewing time each month.
  5. Cox Media analysis of Nielsen national people meter data via NPOWER; P18-49; Live+SD; September broadcast month (Mon 8/31-Sun 9/27); ad-supported Cable networks only; excludes telecasts less than 30 minutes in duration.
  6. Lyrics from “September Morn” written by Neil Diamond.
About the Author

David Gustafson

As Cox Media’s Director of Linear & Audience Research, David plays a key role in the company’s usage and interpretation of TV audience data. With more than two decades of industry experience, David currently is a member of the Nielsen Local Policy Guidelines Committee (PGC) and VAB Measurement Innovation Task Force, as well as client advisor to Comscore. Known as “The Professor,” David’s articles combine his passion for writing with a penchant for concisely explaining complex topics.

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