TV Long View: The Shows With the Biggest Quarantine Viewing Gains

60 Minutes _America's Funniest Home Videos_The Blacklist_Split - Publicity - H 2020
Michele Crowe/CBS; Mike Ansell/ABC; Virginia Sherwood/NBC

TV usage has spiked during the novel coronavirus pandemic: Traditional networks and streaming platforms are seeing increased viewing across all parts of the day and all age groups. Numerous shows measured by Nielsen have brought in their biggest audiences of the season, and in some cases in several years, in the past few weeks.

The upward trend in viewing is even more notable for the fact that this time of year, linear ratings tend to start going down. In normal circumstances, the start of daylight saving time tends to mean viewing declines, especially in the first hour of primetime.

But while the overall trends have been well documented, there hasn't been as much data about the gains for individual programs. The Hollywood Reporter crunched numbers for more than 30 primetime shows that have seen their ratings rise in recent weeks to see which shows have received the biggest boost from increased TV usage.

The top of the chart belongs to two Sunday programs: CBS' 60 Minutes has grown by more than 2 million viewers compared to its season average (excluding weeks it had an NFL lead-in), and ABC's America's Funniest Home Videos has increased by more than 1.3 million viewers. The long-running newsmagazine's 18-49 rating has increased by more than 50 percent (0.73 to 1.1), while America's Funniest Home Videos is tied for the third-largest gain in the 18-49 demographic.

The gains for 60 Minutes are maybe not much of a surprise: News programming in general has grown substantially during the pandemic, both on broadcast and cable. The past three editions of 60 Minutes have brought the show's three largest audiences of the season in non-NFL weeks.

America's Funniest Home Videos, meanwhile, may be benefiting from a jump in families watching TV together. The show has long been among the leaders in co-viewing among parents and children, but it stands to reason that such viewing is on the rise with millions of kids home from school and (perhaps) bedtimes relaxed a bit.

THR compared same-day ratings for primetime series through March 8 — the last full week before widespread stay-at-home mandates in response to the pandemic — and the three-plus weeks since then. All numbers are current through Thursday, April 2. Same-day ratings were used because delayed-viewing data for those weeks is incomplete: Seven-day numbers, for instance, are only current through March 22.

Fourteen shows increased their same-day viewer average by at least 1 million, with three NBC shows — Chicago Med, The Voice and The Blacklist — rounding out the top five after 60 Minutes and America's Funniest Home Videos.

Show Average viewers through March 8 (millions) Average viewers since March 9 (millions) Change (millions) % change
60 Minutes* (CBS) 8.38 10.62 2.24 26.7%
America's Funniest Home Videos (ABC) 4.93 6.27 1.34 27.2%
Chicago Med (NBC) 8.09 9.39 1.3 16.1%
The Voice (NBC) 8.26 9.51 1.25 15.1%
The Blacklist (NBC) 3.86 5.06 1.2 31.1%
NCIS (CBS) 11.37 12.54 1.17 10.3%
Chicago Fire (NBC) 7.94 9.11 1.17 14.7%
The Good Doctor (ABC) 5.65 6.76 1.11 19.6%
Survivor (CBS) 6.69 7.79 1.1 16.4%
Shark Tank - Friday (ABC) 4.24 5.33 1.09 25.7%
FBI: Most Wanted (CBS) 6.47 7.51 1.04 16.1%
FBI (CBS) 8.92 9.94 1.02 11.4%
20/20 (ABC) 3.25 4.25 1.0 30.8%
The Masked Singer* (Fox) 7.04 8.04 1.0 14.2%

*Excludes post-NFL airings. Source: Nielsen, THR research.

In terms of percentage gains, The Blacklist leads the way with a 31 percent boost over its season average for the two episodes since its return from hiatus. ABC's 20/20 has also grown by about that much (30.8 percent), and America's Funniest Home Videos, 60 Minutes, ABC's Friday episodes of Shark Tank and NBC's Superstore have boosted their audiences by at least 24 percent each.

In the 18-49 demographic, 14 series have increased their ratings by at least 0.15, led once again by 60 Minutes. Survivor has the second-biggest total gain at 0.32 and ranks among the top five in percentage boost as well.

Show Average 18-49 rating through March 8 Average 18-49 rating since March 9 Change % change
60 Minutes* (CBS) 0.73 1.1 0.37 50.7%
Survivor (CBS) 1.26 1.58 0.32 25.4%
America's Funniest Home Videos (ABC) 0.73 1.03 0.3 41.1%
The Voice (NBC) 1.33 1.63 0.3 22.6%
Chicago Med (NBC) 1.14 1.35 0.21 18.4%
The Masked Singer* (Fox) 1.97 2.18 0.21 10.7%
Ellen's Game of Games (NBC) 1.0 1.2 0.2 20.0%
The Blacklist (NBC) 0.51 0.7 0.19 37.3%
Shark Tank - Friday (ABC) 0.75 0.93 0.18 24%
20/20 (ABC) 0.55 0.73 0.18 32.7%
FBI (CBS) 0.86 1.03 0.17 19.8%
Young Sheldon (CBS) 1.03 1.2 0.17 16.5%
The Good Doctor (ABC) 0.84 1.0 0.16 19%
Chicago Fire (NBC) 1.15 1.3 0.15 13%

*Excludes post-NFL airings. Source: Nielsen, THR research.

The rankings above exclude streaming series, as no streaming platform regularly releases detailed viewing data. Nielsen estimates, however, that streaming usage has risen faster than the pace of overall TV usage in recent weeks.

Multiplatform data from traditional networks also lags behind same-day data and isn't included here. Nielsen's TV-usage figures say live viewing has risen more than time-shifting in recent weeks across all dayparts, but that rising tide is likely leading to higher numbers in the trailing ratings as well.

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