TV Long View: Dramas Reign in Delayed Viewing

Nearly all of the top performers in three-day ratings are hourlong shows, with only a handful of comedies and unscripted shows making the top 20.
Courtesy of NBC; ABC; FOX
From left: 'This Is Us,' 'Modern Family,' 'The Masked Singer'

If you've watched a broadcast network show via DVR or on demand in the past few days, chances are it was a drama. It's even more likely that the delayed program was not a sporting event.

Analyzing five weeks of ratings data from the start of the TV season, The Hollywood Reporter found that dramas are the biggest beneficiaries of delayed viewing, both in raw numbers and in terms of percentage gain over their initial performance. Comedies and unscripted shows get fairly similar lifts over three days, and it's pretty rare to find a news or sports viewer who waits to watch — even when the outcome is predetermined.

Below is a snapshot of each genre's gains over three days in the first five weeks of the season (all figures are through Oct. 27). News and sports are grouped together for their largely similar viewing patterns.

Program type # of shows Average 3-day gain: adults 18-49 Average 3-day gain: total viewers
Drama (all networks) 46 0.4 (57%) 1.91 million (45%)
Drama (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) 34 0.5 (62.5%) 2.4 million (44%)
Comedy 25 0.3 (37.5%) 1.03 million (28%)
Unscripted 8 0.3 (25%) 1.15 million (18%)
News/sports 10 0.1 (6%) 384,000 (6%)

Source: Nielsen 

Dramas make up the majority of primetime series on the English-language networks — in fact, the 46 dramas that have aired this fall are more than the combined total for comedies (25), unscripted shows (eight), news (five) and sports (five including WWE Smackdown, which is under the Fox Sports banner, and excluding pre- and post-game shows).

Dramas also are disproportionately represented at the top of the delayed-viewing rankings. Sixteen of the 22 shows that grow by at least half a point in the adults 18-49 demographic over three days are dramas, led by NBC's This Is Us (+1.0 from its same-day rating) and New Amsterdam (+0.8) and ABC's Grey's Anatomy (+0.8).

The top 20 shows in total-viewer gains are all dramas as well. ABC's The Good Doctor leads with an average of almost 4 million viewers watching within three days, followed by New Amsterdam (+3.66 million) and CBS' Blue Bloods (+3.63 million).

The final season of ABC's Modern Family is the top comedy in delayed viewing among adults 18-49, growing by 0.7 per episode (its three-day rating of 1.7 is also best among the 25 comedies). It's one of just three half-hours that grow by half a point or more over three days, along with CBS' Young Sheldon and NBC's The Good Place.

Young Sheldon is easily the most-watched comedy in three-day tallies and also adds the most viewers, 2.18 million. Modern Family comes next, growing by about 1.88 million viewers.

Several comedies are also big performers on digital platforms. Nielsen measures ratings out to 35 days after a show airs, and networks occasionally share that data along with multi-platform numbers to showcase their long-tail audiences.

NBC says the season premiere of The Good Place has grown by nearly five times in adults 18-49 (0.66 rating to 3.26) in five weeks via delayed viewing on TVs and on digital platforms. Fox's Sunday animated shows don't grow much via the Nielsen measures of delayed viewing, but the network noted that The Simpsons, Bob's Burgers and Family Guy all at least doubled their viewership last season with digital viewing factored into the total.

As a group, the eight unscripted shows are the highest-performing entertainment shows in both same-day (1.2 in adults 18-49, 6.26 million viewers) and three-day ratings (1.5, 7.4 million). That's thanks to the season's top-rated show in the 18-49 demo, The Masked Singer (3.0 after three days) — and the relatively small number of shows, where an outlier performance like that of the Fox series can have a bigger influence.

The Masked Singer is also something of an anomaly among its unscripted brethren in terms of viewing pattern: Its 0.8-point gain in the 18-49 demo over three days is twice that of the second-ranked show, and it adds about 600,000 more viewers than the next-best one in its group (Survivor in both cases).

Live sports telecasts are the least-watched shows in delayed viewing — not many football fans want to watch a game two or three days after it happens. The pro wrestling spectacle of Smackdown also airs live to the Eastern and Central time zones (and on tape delay to the rest of the country), and its viewers, too, are most likely to watch as it airs. The show adds fewer than 400,000 people over three days.

Primetime news programs also put up relatively small delayed viewing numbers. NBC's Friday edition of Dateline gets the most growth with additions of 0.3 in adults 18-49 and 1.06 million viewers, but as a group the five news shows average three-day gains of just 0.16 in the 18-49 demo and about 630,000 viewers.