Big 5 Networks Down 12% In Primetime Season Viewers

As the end of the TV season draws near, the major five U.S. English-speaking networks are poised for another dismal year, according to one longtime Nielsen metric. But considering all the issues resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, it might have been worse. With just a few weeks to go before the official end of the TV season, total primetime viewers dropped 12% to a collective 21.6 million viewers versus a year ago, for CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and The CW, according to Nielsen-measured live program-plus-same-day time-shifted viewing.

Networks Hold Ratings Line In 2019-20

Traditional networks lost viewers, to be sure, and the spring and summer months were rough for most networks as their content pipelines dried up during the coronavirus pandemic. But the early days of the pandemic, when TV viewing surged across all platforms, provided some cushion against those losses and mitigated the overall declines. Here is a breakdown of the network rankings in primetime and some highlights from other dayparts in the TV year that just concluded.

Delayed Viewing Hardly Changes In Pandemic

Linear TV ratings are up nearly across the board during the past few quarantine weeks, yet delayed viewing, as measured by Nielsen, is almost exactly the same as its pre-pandemic numbers. That observation comes from a comparison of three- and seven-day ratings for some 70 shows across the big four broadcast networks.

NBC Leads In Prime, Fox Makes Big Gains

NBC has a commanding lead in key 18-49 viewer measures so far this season with 3.5 million, thanks to strong results from Sunday and Thursday NFL programming. But it is still down versus a year ago. Fox is in second place at 2.9 million 18-49 viewers with a 2.2/8, thanks in large part to this season’s high ratings of a seven-game World Series. 

Where TV Ratings Go From Here

For the fourth year in a row, every Big Four broadcast network will finish the season with less than a 3.0 rating among 18-49-year-olds. Only two returning broadcast shows have grown this season: CBS’s 60 Minutes, up 7%, and sophomore NBC sitcom The Carmichael Show, up 9%, according to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data. “The numbers have shrunk so much in the last 10 years that you almost have to put the ‘broad’ in ‘broadcast’ in air quotes,” said one TV buyer.

Where The Networks Stand At Midseason

NBC has a big lead over CBS, but CBS has the Super Bowl. Here’s a look at each network’s strengths and weaknesses and a preview of the new shows they have on tap.

Endless Bummer? Ratings Slump Continues

On the heels of a May that saw a double-digit decline in broadcast ratings, the summer season is getting off to a similarly draggy start. According to Nielsen C3 ratings for the final month of the 2014-15 season, deliveries of adults 18-49 fell 11% in broadcast prime, while cable demos were off 7%. This in turn appears to have had a chilling effect on the early summer ratings, as just about every returning network series has lost ground when compared to the year-ago period. Through Thursday, June 18, returning tent poles are down 20% in live-same-day demo ratings.

ABC Ratings Big Job For Sweeney Successor

Anne Sweeney’s successor will take on a slew of responsibilities, from overseeing ABC Studios and the Disney channels to heading the ABC Family and Disney’s interest in A&E Networks and Hulu. But the most obvious problem for the Disney-ABC Television Group is the flagship network’s ratings.


Ryan Seacrest Still King Of New Year’s Eve

ABC devoted its entire primetime schedule last Tuesday to Seacrest’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. During the 10 p.m. hour as the ball dropping came near, Seacrest’s show averaged 12.2 million viewers. Football otherwise dominated the landscape in primetime television, with the one primetime NFL playoff game drawing more than 34 million viewers. It was the tight battle between New Orleans and Philadelphia broadcast by NBC. The football game enabled NBC to win the week in primetime, averaging 8.5 million viewers.

‘Today’ Scores First Weekly Win Since July

NBC’s morning offering edges out Good Morning America among the 25-54 crowd.

Light On Sports, ABC Viewing Tilt Female

For ABC, every important ratings measure in primetime is qualified by what amounts to a footnote: “not counting sports.” Among the four big broadcasters, ABC has competed this fall with no help from the NFL and virtually no help from sports programming at all.


‘Walking Dead’ Rules Ratings In Strong Return

The 16.1 million people who watched the AMC series Sunday shattered the show’s previous record of 12.4 million, which was set for April’s final episode of the third season. CBS won the week in primetime, averaging 9.2 million viewers. NBC had 8.4 million, Fox had 7.5 million, ABC had 7 million, Univision had 3.2 million, the CW had 1.7 million, Telemundo had 1.14 million and Ion Television had 1.05 million.

This Summer It’s ABC And NBC On Top

With barely a month until the new TV season begins, two networks are fighting to finish first this summer. And it looks as though NBC may have the edge over ABC. The networks are tied for No. 1, both averaging a 1.5 adults 18-49 rating/5 share. They’re just ahead of Univision, the winner of the July sweeps, which ranks third with a 1.4/4.

CBS Wraps Season With Landmark Demo Win

With just days left to the May sweep, the 2012-13 season finishes with CBS pulling top bragging rights among adults 18-49 for the first time since 1991 — and fatigued reality shows like American Idol dragging former champ Fox down to second place.


Sophomore Slump Hits Once-Hot Shows

In the television season about to end, some of the most popular new shows from a year ago have not built on their initial success — and in fact have wound up in premature decline.The excitement that surrounded the introduction, in fall 2011, of comedies like New Girl on Fox, Two Broke Girls on CBS and Last Man Standing on ABC, and the family-friendly drama Once Upon a Time on ABC, largely fizzled in season two, as their ratings fell.


Behind The Midseason Ratings Drain

Here’s further proof, if you need it, that this year’s crop of new shows is mostly stinkers. Had viewership for those programs been more like last year, when new hits included 2 Broke Girls, Once Upon a Time and New Girl, broadcast probably wouldn’t have seen ratings declines at midseason. That’s according to a new report published by RPA, the Santa Monica, Calif., agency, looking at all things television at the midseason. David Scardino, entertainment specialist at RPA, talks about C3 ratings, why the Spanish-language networks have had a great year, and why cable shows are not DVRed as much as broadcast.

Univision Wraps Up Milestone Sweep

The Spanish-language network on Wednesday put a bow on an historic February, which saw it finish ahead of one of the Big Four broadcasters — NBC — in a major sweep for the first time.

NBC To Finish Fifth In Sweeps For First Time

An already bad month is getting worse for NBC. For the first time in sweeps history, the network is projected to finish fifth in the key adults 18-49 demographic. That’s crushing blow for NBC, which went from flying high in November with a sweep win to its shows cratering and ratings plunging. From the beginning of the February sweep on Jan. 31 through Feb. 19, NBC has averaged a 1.2 rating among adults 18-49. That’s below the 1.5 that Univision has been averaging so far over the 20 nights of the sweep period.


Assessing NBC’s First-to-Fourth Free Fall

A historic flop in Do No Harm, chaos on Up All Night and a schedule full of holes have insiders (and Brian Williams) grumbling about how to right the ship.

For Univision, The Holidays Brought Viewers

What happens when the broadcast networks decide to scale down their programming for a week because of the holidays? They lose viewers to Univision.