Thanksgiving TV Viewers Feast on Macy's Parade, NFL

The holiday is stealthily one of the biggest TV viewing days of the year.
Ralph Bavaro/NBC; Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images
The 2018 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC (left); Fox's NFL telecast of the Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys

Thanksgiving is a time to gather with family and friends, eat, be grateful — and keep the TV on from breakfast all the way through a midnight snack of leftovers.

With big events throughout the day and the vast majority of people at home to watch them, Thanksgiving is stealthily one of the biggest TV viewing days of the year. The 2018  holiday was no exception.

All three NFL games that aired on Thursday were up double-digits over their counterparts a year ago. NBC's broadcast of the 2018 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was the third most-watched entertainment program of the year — beating the Grammy Awards — and The National Dog Show drew millions more viewers.

In primetime, where there was not much original programming opposite NBC's NFL telecast, a Masterchef Junior special on Fox scored strong numbers with help from a football lead-in. The same was true of NBC's late-night shows.

Taking the day chronologically:

– The Macy's parade averaged 23.68 million viewers for NBC over its three-hour running time. That's off a scant 2 percent from 24.06 million in 2017 and is the fourth-largest audience for the parade since 1987 — in fact, the four biggest audiences in that period have come in the past five years (2013 and 2016-18). Among adults 18-49, the parade scored a 6.0 rating (5.98, to be precise), down from 6.41 last year..

The parade topped the Grammy Awards among adults 18-49 for the first time ever (5.98 to 5.96) and beat the Grammys in viewers for the first time in 2009. The parade is the most watched entertainment telecast in the 2018-19 season to date, and the third-best in the calendar year, trailing only the Oscars and the post-Super Bowl episode of This Is Us.

The National Dog Show on NBC drew 11.16 million viewers (-3 percent vs. 2017) and a 2.7 among adults 18-49 (-10 percent). In both measures, it ranks in the top five telecasts of the event since NBC started airing it 17 years ago.

– CBS' early-afternoon NFL game (Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions) delivered 26.5 million viewers, up 7 percent vs. the early game in 2017 (Minnesota Vikings-Detroit Lions on Fox). It also beat CBS' late-afternoon game in 2017 and is the network's top NFL broadcast this season.

– The late-afternoon NFL telecast on Fox (Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys) averaged 30.48 million viewers, rising 16 percent over the same window a year ago (26.28 million on CBS). It will likely be the most-watched regular-season game of 2018.

– Following that game, the Fox special Masterchef Junior: Celebrity Showdown averaged 6 million viewers and a 1.9 in the 18-49 demo. Those numbers may come down some as they were affected by the NFL lead-in, but the demo figure should be among Fox's better same-day performances of the season so far.

– NBC's primetime NFL telecast (Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints) delivered 21.73 million viewers, spiking by a huge 28 percent over the network's Thanksgiving game last season (New York Giants at Washington Redskins, 16.9 million). It was the biggest audience for the Thanksgiving night game in three years.

– NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon drafted off the NFL to score a 1.4 demo rating, its best (excluding a post-Super Bowl episode in February) since Thanksgiving night in 2016. The show's 4.66 million viewers were the most since the opening of the Winter Olympics on Feb. 9. Late Night With Seth Meyers scored a two-year high in adults 18-49 (0.7) and a three-year high in viewers (2.41 million).

Nov. 27, 12:25 p.m. Updated with final daytime and late-night ratings.