Some of these Nielsen declines from Premiere Week 2019 are even worse than you might have guessed
2020 is not just weird and awful in real life, it’s also weird and awful in TV land!
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The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent production shutdown has left television executives with a pretty bare fall TV schedule and viewers with some less-than-stellar primetime options. Broadcast viewership trends would have likely decreased Nielsen numbers this season anyway due to an influx of streaming platforms and other causes of audience fragmentation. But the massive drops networks have seen this week are mostly due to COVID-19 pausing or altering the production process, clogging the pipeline of new episodes that ordinarily start to air in late September.
While Nielsen’s calendar would disagree, in many ways, this really isn’t even Fall Premiere Week: It’s seven days of freezer-burned leftovers from a meal that was prepared last winter.
The networks have felt that crush in TV ratings. The steepest fall thus far this fall has been at CBS, “America’s Most-Watched Network,” which has attracted 64% fewer viewers over the first three days of Nielsen’s Premiere Week 2020 than it had over the same period last year.
For the first three nights of Premiere Week 2019, Fox was first in the key demo with a 1.6 primetime rating among adults 18-49. The “Masked Singer” network ranked ahead of No. 2 NBC (with a 1.3), No. 3 CBS (1.0), No. 4 ABC (0.9) and No. 5 The CW (0.2).
Those rankings were shuffled in terms of total viewers (people ages 2 and older), with NBC in the No. 1 slot, averaging 7.4 million overall audience members each night. CBS was second with 6.9 million, Fox ranked third with 5.8 million, ABC was fourth with 4.9 million and The CW came in fifth with 604,000.
Over the first three nights of this (bizarre) Premiere Week, ABC ranks first in the key demo with a 1.0 rating. NBC and Fox are tied for second place, each with a 0.7. CBS is fourth with a 0.5, and The CW is fifth with a 0.1.
NBC is first in total viewers in the very early going of this fall season, averaging 5 million primetime viewers. ABC is second with 4.8 million, Fox is third with 3.3 million, CBS is fourth with 2.5 million and The CW is fifth with 535,000.
All ratings in this story come from Nielsen’s Live + Same Day metric, because that’s what we have so far.
For ease of reading and digestion, the year-over-year changes look like this:
CBS: -50% in demo ratings, -64% in total viewers
NBC: -46% in demo ratings, -32% in total viewers
Fox: -56% in demo ratings, -43% in total viewers
*ABC: +10% in demo ratings, -2% in total viewers
The CW: -50% in demo ratings, -11% in total viewers
*ABC’s seemingly miraculous increase in the main demo can be attributed to this week’s “Monday Night Football” game. The simulcast with sister channel ESPN crushed the competition. (That link takes you to Monday’s preliminary primetime ratings, click the next ones for Tuesday and for Wednesday.)
If we omitted ABC’s Monday and merely compared the first Tuesday and Wednesday of the fall TV seasons, the Disney-owned broadcast channel would post a 24% decline in the key demo and an 19% decline in total viewers.
It’s also worth pointing out here that Fox and The CW program two primetime hours, from 8-10 p.m., nationally each weeknight. CBS, NBC and ABC all schedule three hours, 8-11 p.m.
Nielsen weeks run Monday-Sunday, which is why Emmys night (and “Sunday Night Football” for NBC) is not included in this very, VERY preliminary snapshot of the 2020-21 TV season.
We do not yet have final Nielsen numbers for Thursday night, Sept. 24, included in our rankings. For a preliminary look at how the five English-language broadcast networks fared last night, click here. Yeah, it ain’t 2019.
12 Highest-Rated Broadcast TV Shows of Summer 2020 (Photos)
No, it just FEELS like 12 nights of “Big Brother”
Summer is over and it goes without saying that coronavirus threw off pretty much everything about the season, including broadcast TV. But in a time of production delays and pushed premiere dates, June, July and August still saw new episodes of staples like "America's Got Talent" and "Big Brother," and the debuts of newbies like "Don't" and "Broke" (R.I.P.) These are the highest-rated broadcast shows of 2020 ranked from lowest to highest, according to "most current" Nielsen data. For the purposes of this list, we omitted sports and only counted shows that aired five episodes or more between May 21 and Sept. 20. And yes, there are ties.