CBS claimed the distinction of most-watched television network for the 15th year in a row, though bragging rights don’t mean what they used to.
The network averaged just under 6 million viewers in a typical prime time moment for the season that just ended, the Nielsen company said Friday. NBC is the second most popular, followed by fox and ABC – same pecking order as last year.
All the networks lost viewers from last year, with NBC’s 13% decline the biggest and Fox’s 1% decline the smallest, Nielsen said.
CBS’ winning streak began in a different era, when talk of streaming or cord cutting would get a questioning look. Its viewing average during the 2008-09 season was 11.75 million, almost double what it was this year.
In comparison, ABC and Fox both lost more than half of their live viewers from the 2008-09 season, while NBC declined 33% from that time, when it was at an ebb, Nielsen said.
Simply put, viewers have more options today and are used to creating their own entertainment schedules. Broadcast networks also benefit from that; CBS says that within 35 days, a typical episode of “CSI: Vegas” more than doubles its viewership from the night it first aired.
Increasingly, however, live events such as sports are what bring viewers to network television. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” was the most popular program this past season, averaging 18.5 million live viewers, Nielsen said.
“Sunday Night Football” first aired on NBC in 2006. Longevity is an important part of other popular shows. The most-watched drama of the night it premiered, CBS’ “NCIS,” has been on the network’s schedule since 2003. The most popular comedy, CBS’ “Young Sheldon,” premiered in 2017, but it a spinoff from “The Big Bang Theory,” which started a decade ago.
The most-watched prime time news program, CBS’ “60 Minutes,” has been on the air since 1968. The most-watched reality show, NBC’s “The Voice,” debuted in 2011.
All but two of the 10 most-watched scripted shows are dramas. “Young Sheldon” and “Ghosts” on CBS are the two exceptions.
CBS has seven of the 10 most popular scripted shows. Others are producer Dick Wolf of NBC’s “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago Med” and “Chicago PD” trilogy.