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A big audience for Sunday Night Football and solid returns from its Dick Wolf-produced Chicago and Law & Order franchises helped NBC lead the first week of the 2021-22 season by a sizable margin over its broadcast rivals.
The same-day ratings for the week, however, also show how much appointment viewing has shifted away from entertainment programming: Only one scripted series — Fox’s The Simpsons — and five shows total made it above a 1.0 rating in the key ad-sales demographic of adults 18-49.
Thanks in no small part to Sunday Night Football (19.7 million viewers and a 5.63 rating among adults 18-49), NBC led the broadcast networks in both total viewers and the 18-49 demo for the week of Sept. 20-26. The network averaged 6.6 million viewers in primetime and a 1.3 rating in adults 18-49, scoring sizable wins in both measures.
CBS finished second in viewers with 4.4 million, followed by Fox (3.5 million) and ABC (3 million). In the 18-49 demographic, NBC’s 1.3 was half a point ahead of second-place Fox (0.8). ABC and CBS tied for third at 0.6. (ABC and CBS each rolled out only about half of their fall lineups last week.)
NBC’s margin of victory — 57 percent over second place in viewers, 49 percent in adults 18-49 — is the biggest for a network since demo ratings became widely available.
The network also says it led its fellow broadcasters in total viewers among entertainment programming only. It had five of the 10 most watched shows of the week in two episodes of The Voice (7.35 million Tuesday and 7.22 million Monday, ranking second and fourth), Chicago Fire (7.28 million, third), Chicago Med (6.81 million, seventh) and Chicago PD (6.54 million, ninth). Law & Order: SVU finished 12th with 5.57 million viewers.
The other half of the top 10 belonged to CBS, with NCIS ranking first in entertainment programming with 8.45 million viewers.
That said, however, viewing was down across the broadcast networks compared to the last full premiere week in 2019 (last season’s launch spread out over almost two months because of pandemic-related production delays).
As noted above, only five entertainment shows — The Simpsons (1.18), Fox’s The Masked Singer (1.11), the two episodes of The Voice (1.09 Tuesday, 1.08 Monday) and CBS’ Survivor (1.06) — broke the 1.0 mark in adults 18-49 on their airdates. Two years ago, 21 network shows had 1.0 ratings or better. Only NCIS drew more than 8 million viewers last week; in 2019, six shows did.
Several more shows will get above those benchmarks with delayed viewing — three-day ratings for premiere week will be in late this week — and streaming, for which detailed viewing data remains largely opaque. ABC says that its reboot of The Wonder Years has climbed to a 1.55 rating in adults 18-49 across all platforms over three days from a same-day 0.67, with streaming accounting for about 42 percent of that total. That’s the only streaming data the networks have shared thus far.
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