Why CBS Will Be No. 1 Soon: Broadcast Ratings Before Super Bowl 50

You’ve had a good run, NBC, but prepare to be dethroned

It’s Groundhog Day, so it feels appropriate that NBC is once again the No. 1 ranked network in the key 18-49 demographic.

The last time NBC wasn’t on top was just after the 2013-14 TV season’s Super Bowl, which aired on Fox. Even back then, though, NBC worked back into a first-place tie within a week and reclaimed the top slot outright after two weeks, thanks to the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Before that, the last time NBC wasn’t leading the season for a significant period was February through September of the 2012-13 season, when CBS got a Super Bowl boost.

Alas, it won’t last, for CBS has Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, which will be the biggest TV show of 2016 — and probably ever. The draw of eyeballs to the one telecast will be so strong that the so-called Tiffany Network will definitely leapfrog NBC by Monday morning as top rated broadcast network.

As of today, NBC has the drop on CBS by two-tenths of a ratings point in the all-important demo, according to Nielsen’s “most current” ratings, which include seven-day delayed viewing where available. Fox is two-tenths below that, thanks to “Empire” and NFL football — particularly its NFC Championship Game. For the season-to-date window, we are measuring Sept. 21, 2015 through Jan. 31, 2016.

Poor ABC, with no NFL rights (“Monday Night Football” airs on parent Disney’s ESPN), is sitting in fourth place with a 1.8 primetime rating average. The CW (0.7) is obviously not in the Big 4’s class per this demographic.

In total viewers, CBS already leads NBC, while ABC and Fox follow.

CBS will only widen that gap with the much-marketed 50th anniversary of the big game, which is going to be followed by the “Late Show” and “The Late Late Show.”

Total Viewers, season-to-date (primetime averages)
1) CBS: 10.96 million
2) NBC: 9.09 million
3) ABC: 6.68 million
4) Fox: 6.47 million
5) CW: 1.86 million

Last year, the Super Bowl on NBC scored a record 114.4 million total viewers. With Peyton Manning, some fancy gold numbers, and America’s most-watched network behind Sunday’s match-up, it feels probable that the record stands to fall in five days.

Finally, some good parting news for NBC. This summer, the Bob Greenblatt-led network will have Rio’s Summer Olympics, which may not be as large as the NFL’s championship game, but it lasts far longer.

As a result, over the course of the full 52-week season — which the summer-strong network prefers to use as a barometer anyway — order should be restored to the universe and NBC will be No. 1 once more.

Until then, drink up, NBC — it’s been a good run.

Super Bowl 50 kicks off at 3:30 p.m. PT/6:30 p.m ET Sunday on CBS.

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