CBS held the distinction of most-watched television network for the 15th year in a row, even if those bragging rights don’t mean what they used to.
The Nielsen Company said Friday that the network averaged less than 6 million viewers at a specific moment in prime time for the season. NBC was the second most popular, followed by Fox and ABC – the same pecking order as last year.
Nielsen said that of all the networks that lost viewers from a year ago, NBC’s 13% decline was the sharpest and Fox’s 1% decline was the smallest.
CBS’s winning streak began in a different era, when the mention of streaming or cord-cutting was an outlandish sight. It averaged 11.75 million viewers during that 2008–09 season, nearly double that of the year before.
In comparison, both ABC and Fox lost more than half of their live viewers from the 2008–09 season, while NBC was down 33% from that point, Nielsen said.
Simply put, audiences today have far more choices and are used to creating their own entertainment programmes. Broadcast networks also benefit from this; CBS stated that within 35 days, a typical episode of “CSI: Vegas” more than doubled its viewership from the night it first aired.
But, increasingly, live events such as sports bring viewers to network television. Nielsen said NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” was the most popular program this past season, with an average of 18.5 million live viewers.
“Sunday Night Football” first aired in 2006 on NBC. Longevity was a major component in other popular shows. CBS’s “NCIS” has been the most-watched drama on the network’s schedule since 2003, the night it first aired. The most popular comedy, CBS’s “Young Sheldon”, first aired in 2017, but it was a spinoff from CBS. “The Big Bang Theory,” which debuted over a decade ago.
The most-watched news program in prime time, CBS’s “60 Minutes”, has been on the air since 1968. The most watched reality show, NBC’s “The Voice” debuted in 2011.
Of the 10 most watched scripted shows, all but two were dramas. “Young Sheldon” and CBS’s “Ghost” were two exceptions.
CBS had seven of the 10 most popular scripted shows. The others were producer Dick Wolf’s “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago Med” and “Chicago PD” trilogy on NBC.