NBC’s Ratings Troubles Without Olympics: Will Lose Full-Season Race for 1st Time in 7 Years

Congrats, Fox

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics now set to be the 2021 Tokyo Olympics due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, NBC has a giant hole in its upcoming summer schedule. Without the big Nielsen numbers the Summer Games always bring in, it’s now unlikely that NBC will win the September to September season in the ratings. Yes, the streak is all but over.

NBC both covets and owns the 52-week season, a long-look measurement that has grown in importance to rival Nielsen’s traditional September-to-May window. We’re now about two decades removed from the days when warm weather automatically meant repeats in prime time. In 1999, ABC introduced the world to “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” as a limited stunt run. The following summer, CBS launched “Survivor” and “Big Brother.”

Up to this point, NBC has won six straight September-to-September seasons in the key demographic for company’s advertising on entertainment programming, adults 18-49. To say Year No. 7 is in doubt would be an understatement.

We are currently through 26 weeks of the 52-week season — or exactly the midway mark. Below are the network rankings by both demo ratings and total-viewer averages to-date, according to Nielsen. All numbers include one week of delayed viewing where available.

Adults 18-49 Rating
1. Fox: 1.9
2. NBC: 1.4
3. (tie) ABC & CBS: 1.1
5. CW: 0.3

As you can see, Fox has a half of a ratings point lead (+36% in this case) over NBC, and more than that on ABC and CBS (+73%). While “9-1-1” and some other successful Fox shows are certainly chipping in, that chasm is really all about Super Bowl LIV and “The Masked Singer.”

The 2020 Olympics were supposed to open on July 24, 2020 and conclude on Aug. 9, 2020. Those weeks would have closed the gap.

In terms of total viewers, CBS is on pace to win another September to September season — though that margin is thinner — about +10% over Fox and +12% over NBC.

Total Viewers
1. CBS: 7.7 million
2. Fox: 7.0 million
3. NBC: 6.9 million
4. ABC: 5.5 million
5. CW: 1.1 million

No one at CBS would be foolish enough to think this one is in the bag, though they’re pleased to hold the pole position.

After all, we’ve still got six months to go here and we’ve never lived in more uncertain times. Some key variables for how this all shakes out include when the NFL returns to television, and can NBC get a full season of “America’s Got Talent” onto its airwaves?

At the time of this writing, the NFL preseason and regular season is still scheduled to kick off in late summer and NBC still believes it won’t lose an entire summer of “AGT.” We’ll see about all of that. Or more accurately, the COVID-19 curve will.

Tony Maglio

Tony Maglio

TV Editor • [email protected] • Twitter: @tonymaglio



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