A year after having both the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics on its schedule, NBC fell further than any of its Big Four broadcast rivals in 2018-19. The network slipped by 27 percent in the key ad-sales demographic of adults 18-49 and by 19 percent in total viewers.
Yet despite those declines, NBC can still put the season in the win column. For the fifth time in six years, it is poised to end the season ranked first in adults 18-49 and maintains a firm hold on the No. 2 spot in viewers, where CBS is set to lead its 11th consecutive season.
With three days left in the season, NBC is at the top of the 18-49 rankings with a 1.6 rating — equivalent to about 2.07 million people in that age range. CBS and Fox are in a virtual tie for second at 1.5, with CBS drawing a smidge more viewers in the demo (1.96 million to 1.9 million for Fox); both are essentially flat even though CBS had the benefit of the Super Bowl. ABC is fourth at 1.2 (down 20 percent from 1.5 last season), and The CW brings up the rear at 0.4, off from 0.6 a year ago.
In total viewers, CBS’ average of 8.94 million is essentially even with last season’s 8.98 million and comfortably ahead of NBC’s 7.21 million. Fox, with the addition of primetime NFL games on Thursdays in the fall and improvements on a couple other nights, is the only network to add viewers over last season, growing 9 percent to 5.37 million. ABC, the only one of the Big Four networks not to air NFL games, declined about 8 percent to 5.62 million. The CW took the steepest fall, dropping 23 percent to 1.34 million.
Spanish-language broadcasters Telemundo and Univision are tied at 0.4 among adults 18-49 (with Univision drawing a scant 20,000 more viewers in the demo). Univision leads in viewers, 1.38 million to 1.2 million for Telemundo, but also declined more year to year (12 percent vs. 3 percent).
Here are some of the individual winners and losers from the broadcast season.
The Masked Singer: The season’s biggest breakout hit, Fox’s costumed singing competition is the No. 1 new series in adults 18-49 by a wide margin: Its 3.8 rating in the demo, including a week of delayed viewing, is a full point ahead of NBC’s Manifest. It is tied with This Is Us and The Big Bang Theory for the top entertainment series overall. Fox is betting big on the show next season, with two cycles and a post-Super Bowl premiere for the second.
The Big Bang Theory: Although it declined in its 12th and final season, the CBS comedy is going out as network TV’s most-watched series, averaging 17.5 million viewers. The series finale clocked in with 18.5 million viewers, growing to a massive 23.44 million after three days.
The Oscars: After four straight years of declining audiences and an all-time low in 2018, the host-less awards show bounced back some, growing by double digits in both viewers (29.56 million, +11.5 percent over 2018) and the 18-49 demographic (7.7, +13 percent).
The Chicago franchise: Stacking Dick Wolf’s Windy City-set shows on Wednesday nights proved to be a boon for NBC: All three are steady in adults 18-49 — no small thing in a season when the vast majority of broadcast shows declined — and Chicago Med, Fire and PD are also having their most-watched seasons ever, averaging better than 11 million viewers apiece.
The CW’s Sunday night: Supergirl and a remake of Charmed didn’t make the Big Four sweat, but they accomplished their goal for The CW in providing a starting point for more original programming across its linear and digital platforms.
The NFL: Despite a down Super Bowl, the safest bet on broadcast TV improved across the board in 2018-19. Every regular-season broadcast window and all three rounds of the pre-Super Bowl playoffs improved on the prior year.
The Voice and American Idol: While The Masked Singer took off, these two veteran singing competitions took it on the chin. The Voice‘s two weekly shows declined by double digits in adults 18-49 (16 percent on Mondays, 13 percent on Tuesdays in live-plus-7 ratings). Idol fell by 19 percent on Sundays and 25 percent on Mondays.
Will & Grace and The Gifted: In a season where most shows were down, the NBC sitcom and Fox’s Marvel drama were the most down (aside from shows that were moved to Fridays from higher-trafficked nights): Will & Grace declined by a massive 46 percent in adults 18-49 (2.8 to 1.5 in live-plus-7), and The Gifted fell by 45 percent (2.0 to 1.1). The former will return in the back half of 2019-20 thanks to a very early renewal, while The Gifted was axed after two seasons.
CBS’ 9:30 p.m. Thursday time slot: The network went 0-for-3 with the last piece of its Thursday comedy block: The Murphy Brown revival arrived with a lot of hype and not enough viewers, ending after its initial 13 episodes and getting canceled in May. Midseason entry Fam came and went with scarcely a blip, despite marketable young stars Nina Dobrev and Tone Bell. Now Life in Pieces is a dead show walking.
Marginal second-year series: Some eyebrows rose a year ago when the likes of ABC’s For the People and Splitting Up Together and NBC’s AP Bio were renewed despite mediocre-to-poor ratings. It was possible to make a case for all three — For the People (Shonda Rhimes) and AP Bio (Lorne Michaels) were backed by big-name producers, Splitting Up Together put up OK numbers thanks to the Roseanne halo. As these things tend to go, however, all three suffered sizable declines their second time out: For the People and Splitting Up Together were canceled, and AP Bio, while still playing out its season, is the longest of shots.
Superheroes: In addition to the aforementioned The Gifted, the five DC Comics shows on The CW were down a collective 25 percent in adults 18-49 vs. last season. The final run for Gotham on Fox declined by 15 percent year to year. Agents of SHIELD‘s future is safe on ABC, as it received an early seventh-season pickup, but it’s likely to come in below last season as it runs into the summer.