NEW YORK (AP) — CBS has claimed the accolade of most-watched television network for the 15th straight year, even though those bragging rights no longer mean what they used to.
The network averaged just under 6 million viewers at a typical primetime time for the just-concluded season, the Nielsen company said Friday. NBC was the second most popular, followed by Fox and ABC – the same pecking order as last year.
All of the networks lost viewers in the previous year, with NBC’s 13% drop the steepest and Fox’s 1% drop the weakest, Nielsen said.
CBS’s winning streak began in a different era, when the mention of streaming or cord-cutting earned a quizzical gaze. Its average audience during this 2008-09 season was 11.75 million, almost double what it was this year.
By comparison, ABC and Fox both lost more than half of their live viewers from the 2008-09 season, while NBC was down 33% since that time when it was at its lowest, a said Nielsen.
Quite simply, viewers have a lot more choices today and are used to creating their own entertainment programs. Broadcast networks also benefit; CBS said that in 35 days, a typical episode of “CSI: Vegas” more than doubled in viewership from the night it first aired.
But increasingly, live events like sports are what bring viewers to network television. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” was the most popular program last season, averaging 18.5 million live viewers, Nielsen said.
“Sunday Night Football” first aired on NBC in 2006. Longevity was key in other popular shows. The most watched drama on the night of its 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 it was a spin-off from “The Big Bang Theory”, which started a decade earlier.
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 top 10 scripted shows were dramas. CBS’s “Young Sheldon” and “Ghosts” were the two exceptions.
CBS had seven of the top 10 scripted shows. The others were producer Dick Wolf’s “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago Med,” and NBC’s “Chicago PD” trilogy.