NBC Tops Fall Ratings by a Shrinking Margin as New Fox Makes a Big Play

Fox has grown year to year and the broadcast nets haven't fallen much collectively, but a steeper drop among adults 18-49 is worrisome.
Michael Yarish/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.; Fox; NBC
From left: CBS' 'Big Bang Theory,' Fox's '911,' NBC's 'Manifest'

The good news for the broadcast networks is that their total audience hasn't slipped that much this fall compared to a year ago.

The bad news is that the portion of the audience on which most business is based is eroding more quickly.

As the year comes to a close, NBC and CBS are once again neck-and-neck in the race for "most-watched" bragging rights; Fox is the only network to improve on last season, fueled by the addition of primetime football; and ABC and The CW are lagging.

The top-line stats: Collectively, ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW have lost about 4 percent of their overall viewership vs. this time last season: They're averaging 32.34 million viewers over the first 11 weeks of the season (Sept. 24-Dec. 9) vs. 33.54 million at the same time in 2017. The Big Four nets are off by just 2 percent, 30.9 million vs. 31.66 million a year ago.

Fox is the only network to improve year to year in viewers, rising from 6.17 million to 7.14 million thanks to Thursday Night Football and gains on Monday and Friday nights. CBS and NBC are tied for No. 1 in viewers at just under 9 million each; ABC is at 5.78 million; and The CW at 1.44 million.

The adults 18-49 picture is comparatively bleak. The networks average a combined 9.56 million viewers in the demo (a 7.47 rating), down 10 percent from 10.58 million (8.27 rating) this time in 2017. Fox is up 10 percent, but ABC, CBS and The CW have all fallen by at least 18 percent and NBC is off 9 percent.

Below is a rundown of each network's numbers and where the strong and weak points are. Individual show ratings are live-plus-7 through Nov. 25 unless noted.

ABC
Adults 18-49: 1.3 rating/1.63 million viewers (fourth place, -18.5 percent vs. fall 2017); Total viewers: 5.78 million (fourth, -11 percent)

Bright spots: Though The Conners is not drawing nearly as well as Roseanne did in the spring, it is outperforming The Middle — which aired in the same spot last fall — by 25 percent in the demo and by more than 3 million viewers. The Rookie has stabilized ABC's worst time period (Tuesday at 10 p.m.) and is significantly outperforming Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. The unflappable Grey's Anatomy remains a top-10 show in the demo in its 15th season.

Soft spots: The Alec Baldwin Show flopped hard, falling well short of Ten Days in the Valley, the network's lowest-rated show last fall. Shark Tank is also down on Sundays. Three of ABC's anchor shows — The Good Doctor, Modern Family and The Goldbergs — have fallen by at least 18 percent each vs. the same time a year ago; The Good Doctor has tumbled by 37 percent in adults 18-49.

CBS
Adults 18-49: 1.4/1.85 million viewers (third place, -18 percent); Total viewers: 8.99 million (tied for first, -8.5 percent)

Bright spots: The network's decline in total viewers is partly attributable to no longer having Thursday Night Football for the early weeks of the season. Despite some declines, The Big Bang Theory and NCIS are still the most-watched comedy and drama on network TV. Bull and God Friended Me have upgraded their respective Monday and Sunday time periods. CBS has the NFL's AFC title game in primetime in January and the Super Bowl in February, which should all but assure another season as the most-watched network.

Soft spots: Second-year drama SEAL Team has dropped off by more than 20 percent in both adults 18-49 and viewers; lead-out Criminal Minds isn't faring much better with 19- and 18-percent drops. Comedy Happy Together has underperformed in an already weak Monday timeslot, failing to improve on the mediocre numbers a couple of other shows posted there last year.  

Fox
Adults 18-49: 2.0/2.62 million viewers (second place, +10 percent); Total viewers: 7.14 million (third, +16 percent)

Bright spots: Thursday Night Football has more than doubled the network's Thursday numbers year-over-year, as expected. The revival of Last Man Standing and new comedy The Cool Kids have helped boost Fridays by 15 percent, and the Monday combination of The Resident and 911 is running 33 percent ahead of last fall's Lucifer/The Gifted lineup.

Soft spots: Tuesday remains Fox's weakest night, with Lethal Weapon declining 23 percent in adults 18-49 vs. this time in 2017 and The Gifted off by a scary 43 percent vs. its Monday average last fall. Rel hasn't been the breakout vehicle for Lil Rel Howery the network hoped for, running 38 percent behind The Last Man on Earth's average from last fall.

NBC
Adults 18-49: 2.2/2.84 million viewers (first place, -9 percent); Total viewers: 8.99 million (tied for first, -2 percent)

Bright spots: Although it lost its portion of the Thursday Night Football slate, NBC hasn't declined as much as its fellow broadcasters. That's due in part to improvements for Sunday Night Football, which is up more than 10 percent in viewers dating to the official start of the TV season. Rookies Manifest and New Amsterdam have given their time periods huge upgrades over the same time last year. The all-Chicago Wednesday lineup is one of two nightly lineups where every show averages more than 10 million viewers (CBS' Tuesday is the other).

Soft spots: The Thursday lineup is down across the board, with declines ranging from modest (Law & Order: SVU) to moderate (Superstore, The Good Place) to massive (Will & Grace, which is off more than 50 percent in adults 18-49 vs. this time last season). The Voice may be showing its age: The Monday edition is down 18 percent in adults 18-49 vs. fall 2017; the Tuesday installment has fallen 22 percent.

The CW
Adults 18-49: 0.5/620,000 viewers (-25 percent); Total viewers: 1.44 million (-23 percent)

Bright spots: The network opened a new night to pretty stable numbers. Both Supergirl (0.7 in adults 18-49, 2.26 million viewers) and Charmed (0.8, 2.11 million) are performing above the network average. Vampire Diaries franchise extension Legacies is pulling in ratings on par with the final season of its immediate predecessor, The Originals.

Soft spots: With the caveat that linear ratings are not as important to The CW as they are to other networks, every single returning series on the network is drawing a smaller audience than at this time last year.