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.
Nielsen’s latest round of premiere week measurements show strong growth for promising freshmen, ratings boosts from last fall and CBS’s unstoppable returning comedy The Big Bang Theory besting even Sunday Night Football.
George H.W. Bush was president, Joan Lunden still co-hosted Good Morning America and David Letterman continued to fester at NBC the last time this happened. CBS will march into next season as the No. 1 network among 18-to-49-year-olds for the first time in 21 years. And, CBS as usual will win in total viewers, although this time it’s a mega-rout. The network is averaging 12 million viewers in the season-to-date averages, followed by ABC (7.8 million), Fox (7.1 million) and NBC (7 million).
With a dozen weeks to go before the 2011-12 broadcast season wheezes to a halt, ABC is suspended in a nearly airless equipoise between triumph and futility. For every new series that has landed on the network’s primetime schedule like a stunned carp, there’s been an equal number of easy, breezy hits. Will the four new shows the network has on deck be enough to pull it out of its rut?
While other networks have generated new hits, NBC has not, and the network’s new leadership has made clear to its staff that rebuilding will take time and patience.
Of course, the season premiere of Two and a Half Men didn’t hurt CBS’ cause. Nearly 29 million viewers tuned in to see Ashton Kutcher arrive as Charlie Sheen’s replacement on the veteran sitcom, which was easily the most-watched show of the week. But CBS also logged another 10 shows in the Top 20.
Over the past 10 years, DVR, online streaming, digital cable, video on-demand and increased programming options have fundamentally changed the way Americans watch television. Yet, the audience size for broadcast primetime remains strong at just shy of 200 million viewers. What has changed, however, is the makeup of the programming in the popular 8-11 p.m. time block, according to Nielsen’s analysis of the top 10 primetime broadcast TV shows.
Excluding the February week of the Oscarcast, ABC scored its first win in viewership in almost a year, according to Nielsen figures released today. ABC averaged 8.7 million viewers overall in primetime (with a 5.5 household rating, 9 share). Close behind was CBS with an average 8.4 million viewers (5.3 rating, 9 share), while Fox took third place with 8.1 million (4.8 rating, 8 share).
Fox dominated the ratings last night with American Idol, but the show was off from last week, four nights after Americans moved their clocks forward and gained an extra hour of daylight that has them staying out later.
The Steelers’ victory over the New York Jets was seen by 54.9 million people, mostly in prime time on Sunday, the Nielsen Co. said. That made it the most watched AFC championship game on record. Meanwhile, Nielsen said 52 million people saw the Packers beat the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon.
The NFL’s Sunday night shootout between the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers was seen by nearly 21.2 million people on NBC, the only primetime program to top 20 million viewers last week.
Even though Fox ended CBS’s season-opening winning streak in the ratings, there have been few reasons for its executives to be gleeful this fall. Nielsen said Fox was the top-ranked network last week on the strength of the World Series. No other network had beaten CBS this fall.