CBS, Fox Lead Network Ratings Race at 2019-20's Midpoint

Mark Harmon on NCIS and Nick Cannon on The Masked Singer - Publicity stills - Split - H 2020
Edward Chen/CBS; Lisa Rose/FOX

CBS and Fox are leading the broadcast networks in ratings halfway the 2019-20 season — and there's a pretty good chance they'll end up in first come May as well.

Through 18 weeks — the midpoint of the traditional September-to-May season — CBS is in its familiar position of being the most-watched broadcaster, a title it has held for 11 straight years. Fox is the leader in the key ad-sales demographic of adults 18-49, and its cushion will only grow with the network's broadcast of the Super Bowl on Sunday. Last year, CBS' broadcast of the game lifted the network's season average two-tenths of a point over the previous week.

Among individual shows, NBC's This Is Us and Fox's The Masked Singer are tied at the top of the 18-49 rankings, not including pro football, and NCIS is the most-watched series that isn't a primetime NFL franchise. 

The network rankings are below. They're the "most current" average, a combination of seven-day ratings for the first 16 weeks of the season and same-day numbers for the most recent two weeks.

Network 18-49 rating (rank) Viewers in millions (rank)
ABC 1.1 (4th) 5.2 (4th)
CBS 1.2 (3rd) 7.82 (1st)
Fox 1.9 (1st) 6.98 (3rd)
NBC 1.6 (2nd) 7.39 (2nd)
The CW 0.3 (7th) 1.1 (7th)
Telemundo 0.4 (t-6th) 1.12 (6th)
Univision 0.4 (t-6th) 1.37 (5th)

CBS assumed the total-viewer lead from NBC in the second week of January — not coincidentally, the week after NBC's primetime NFL commitments ended for the season. The Eye's own primetime NFL playoff broadcasts helped; two games in the early rounds averaged about 30.4 million viewers. But the network also has eight of the top 15 entertainment shows in total viewers this season.

Fox is the only network to grow its total audience vs. the same time a year ago: It's up by about half a million viewers, thanks to bigger tune-in for Thursday Night Football year-over-year (it grew by about 760,000 viewers), a fall run for the unscripted hit The Masked Singer and improvements from 911 on Mondays and The Resident and Empire on Tuesdays, which have outdrawn last year's Lethal Weapon-The Gifted duo by double digits.

Although it remains No. 1 in viewers, CBS is down by the largest percentage in viewers vs. the same time in 2019, falling 11 percent from 8.83 million. NBC is down 8.5 percent from 8.08 million, and ABC has lost a scant 2 percent vs. this time last year. Univision (off less than 1 percent) and Telemundo (down 5 percent) are fairly steady, while The CW has lost a quarter of a million linear viewers year to year, a drop of 18.5 percent. 

Among adults 18-49, Fox is the only English-language network matching its year-ago performance; Univision and Telemundo are also steady. ABC has slipped 0.1 (8 percent), and CBS and NBC have each lost three-tenths of a point (20 percent and 16 percent, respectively). The CW has dropped a tenth of a point.

Seven-day ratings for individual shows are current through week 17, and after NBC and Fox's primetime NFL franchises, This Is Us and The Masked Singer are the leaders in the 18-49 demo — at least among shows to air more than once before Jan. 19. Fox's 911: Lone Star had a big premiere following the NFC Championship game, drawing a 3.8 rating in adults 18-49 and 14.56 million viewers. Subsequent episodes on Monday nights have posted decent same-day numbers, but far below the football-juiced ones of its debut.

NCIS outdraws Thursday Night Football after a week of delayed viewing, making up a deficit of almost 3.7 million viewers from the same-day ratings. The No. 2 entertainment show in viewers is FBI, which follows NCIS in CBS' Tuesday lineup.

Also not included below: ABC's four-night Jeopardy: The Greatest of All Time event, which isn't considered an ongoing series for Nielsen purposes. The four nights averaged better than 16 million viewers, which would rank behind only Sunday Night Football for the season, and would be in the top 10 in adults 18-49.

Below are the top 10 shows at the halfway point of the season. All figures include seven days of delayed viewing; sports pre- and post-game shows are excluded.

Adults 18-49

1. Sunday Night Football (NBC), 5.9
2. Thursday Night Football (Fox), 4.5
3t. The Masked Singer (Fox), 3.0
3t. This Is Us (NBC), 3.0
5. The Bachelor (ABC), 2.5
6t. 911 (Fox), 2.4
6t. Grey's Anatomy (ABC), 2.4
8. Chicago PD (NBC), 2.0
9t. Modern Family (ABC), 1.9
9t. Chicago Fire (NBC), 1.9

Total Viewers

1. Sunday Night Football (NBC), 20.09 million
2. NCIS (CBS), 15.07 million
3. Thursday Night Football (Fox), 15.05 million
4. FBI (CBS), 12.29 million
5. This Is Us (NBC), 11.82 million
6. Blue Bloods (CBS), 11.8 million
7. Chicago Fire (NBC), 11.28 million
8. Young Sheldon (CBS), 11.13 million
9. Chicago Med (NBC), 10.94 million
10. Chicago Fire (NBC), 10.88 million

Source: Nielsen