CBS has claimed 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.
Nielsen said Friday that the network averages just under 6 million viewers at a typical prime-time moment for the just-ended season. NBC was the second most popular, followed by Fox and ABC — the same ranking as last year.
All networks lost viewers year-over-year, Nielsen said, with NBC down 13 percent and smaller Fox network down 1 percent.
CBS’s winning streak began in a different era, when the mention of live broadcasting or cord cutting was gaining an eerie look. Its viewership during the 2008-2009 season averaged 11.75 million, double that of this year.
By comparison, ABC and Fox each lost more than half of their direct viewership from the 2008-09 season, while NBC is down 33% since that time, when it was on the tide, Nielsen said.
Quite simply, viewers have a lot more options today and are used to creating their own entertainment schedules. Broadcast networks also take advantage of this; CBS said that within 35 days, a typical episode of “CSI: Vegas” would more than double its viewership since the night it first aired.
But, increasingly, live events like sports are what draw viewers to network television. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” was the most popular program last season, Nielsen said, with an average of 18.5 million live viewers.
“Sunday Night Football” first aired on NBC in 2006. Longevity has been a major component of other popular shows. The most-watched drama of the night first airing, CBS’s NCIS, has been on the network’s schedule since 2003. The most popular comedy, CBS’s “Young Sheldon,” first aired in 2017, but has been a spin-off. About the “Big Bang Theory” that started a decade ago.
The most-watched prime-time news program, CBS’s “60 Minutes,” has been on the air since 1968. NBC’s most-watched reality show, The Voice, started in 2011.
All but two of the ten most-watched scripts were dramas. The two exceptions were CBS’ “Young Sheldon” and “Ghosts”.
CBS has had seven of the 10 most popular scripted shows. The others were Dick Wolf’s “Chicago Fire” trilogy, NBC’s “Chicago Med” and “Chicago PD”.