According to a Wall Street Journal study of four recent broadcasts, and similar estimates by researchers, the average amount of time the ball is in play on the field during an NFL game is about 11 minutes...This is why the only way I watch football nowadays is by using a DVR and speeding through the game (and past the commercials).
So what do the networks do with the other 174 minutes in a typical broadcast? Not surprisingly, commercials take up about an hour. As many as 75 minutes, or about 60% of the total air time, excluding commercials, is spent on shots of players huddling, standing at the line of scrimmage or just generally milling about between snaps. In the four broadcasts The Journal studied, injured players got six more seconds of camera time than celebrating players. While the network announcers showed up on screen for just 30 seconds, shots of the head coaches and referees took up about 7% of the average show...
Reposted from 2012 to add news of developments in 2017:
"It has been an effort for a long period of time. We've talked about the length of the game," [NFL Commissioner] Goodell said. "This effort's not as focused on the length of the game. This is focused on what's happening outside the plays -- how fast we get the ball set, the number of breaks, the number of intrusions -- so that fans can focus on the action."Clueless. The idea that cutting 5 minutes out of a 3-hour broadcast will satisfy fans' frustrations shows that viewer interests don't even begin to compete with advertiser's interests.
With all this talk about making the game faster for fans, what would Goodell consider the ideal length of a broadcast?
"We (were at) 3:07 and change (last season), down about a minute," Goodell said. "We think we could probably get pretty close to five minutes of downtime out of the game, so that would bring you somewhere in the 3:02 range. That would be very successful if we could get to that point. But, again, not just the length. We want to make sure we are taking the right things out of the game -- the things that are not compelling to our fans."