So Who Wins Saturdays in Primetime Ratings Anyway?

In the fall, college football dominates “with a signature matchup” that almost always impacts the postseason, ESPN’s Nick Dawson says

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Since “Star Wars” bashing is in the news, let’s open this week’s column with a crossover joke: Saturdays are the “Phantom Menace” of TV nights. Nobody cares about them anywhere near as much as the other ones — but that doesn’t mean they don’t count in the overall universe.

People go out on Saturday nights, meaning television watching is at its lowest. You also don’t read much about “live” Saturday ratings because none of us want to work on Sundays. Just being honest here.

So who wins Saturdays in primetime ratings anyway? Well, that depends on the season — the sports season, mainly.

In the fall, college football dominates on Saturday nights. Currently, ABC’s version of the amateur pigskin is beating Fox’s, and by a big margin: +75%. No wonder ESPN executive Nick Dawson called the telecast “the backbone of our entire television slate across multiple networks,” in a conversation with TheWrap.

ESPN is the cable sister to broadcast network ABC. Both are owned by Disney.

“Each week features a signature matchup, with the result of the game almost always having an impact on the sport’s postseason landscape,” said Dawson, ESPN’s vice president of programming and acquisition.  “We have been thrilled by fans’ response to the franchise for a long time and this season was no different.”

Yes, Dawson’s ABC is the current Saturday champ, but you shouldn’t feel too sorry for Fox Sports: Its college football still beats the night’s highest-rated non-sports program, which is CBS’ 10 p.m. series “48 Hours.”

Readers can find all of the specifics towards the bottom of this story.

That doesn’t mean “48 Hours” will pick up the ball and run with it now that college football is winding down, however. After the season ends, ABC inherits ESPN’s NBA programming on Saturdays, and those games take the top slot. (In the summers, NBC’s “Dateline Mystery” tops the slowest night in the slowest months.)

In short, ABC really doesn’t hate Saturday night programming.

Rounding out the evening’s Top 5 shows of any kind on broadcast is NBC’s “SNL Primetime Saturday,” that network’s highest-rated Saturday series. Then there’s a tie, some “Crimetime” hours, and a full replay of Tuesday’s “The Voice” episode. See how all nine of the shows on the Big 4 broadcasters rank in the key adults 18-49 demographic below. (The CW does not program nationally Saturday nights.)

Note: All numbers in this story come from Nielsen’s “most current” ratings metric, which counts a week of delayed (DVR) viewing where available. That somewhat disproportionately helps the non-sports series, but it’s also the reality of how television tune-in works in 2019.

Here are the current rankings in the key demo:

1. “Saturday Night College Football” (8:07 p.m., ABC): 1.4 rating
2. “Saturday Night College Football Pregame” (7:30 p.m., ABC): 1.0 rating
3. “College Football Fox Primetime” (8 p.m., Fox): 0.8 rating
4. “48 Hours” (10 p.m., CBS): 0.6 rating
5. “SNL Primetime Saturday” (10 p.m., NBC): 0.5 rating
6. (tie) “Dateline Mystery” (9 p.m., NBC): 0.4 rating
6. (tie) “Crimetime Saturday – 8pm” (8 p.m., CBS): 0.4 rating
8. “Crimetime Saturday – 9pm” (9 p.m., CBS): 0.3 rating
9. “The Voice – Saturday”: 0.2 (8 p.m., NBC): 0.2 rating

And for kicks (and CBS’ benefit), in total viewers:

1. “Saturday Night College Football” (8:07 p.m., ABC): 5.191 million viewers
2. “48 Hours” (10 p.m., CBS): 3.930 million viewers
3. “Saturday Night College Football Pregame” (7:30 p.m., ABC): 3.827 million viewers
4. “Crimetime Saturday – 8pm” (8 p.m., CBS): 3.048 million viewers
5. ‘College Football Fox Primetime” (8 p.m., Fox): 3.024 million viewers
6. (tie) “Dateline Mystery” (9 p.m., NBC): 2.598 million viewers
7. “Crimetime Saturday – 9pm” (9 p.m., CBS): 2.580 million viewers
8. “SNL Primetime Saturday” (10 p.m., NBC): 2.437 million viewers
9. “The Voice – Saturday”: 0.2 (8 p.m., NBC): 1.623 million viewers

Enjoy the weekend, everybody, and maybe donate an hour of your Saturday night to showing one of these unsung heroes some love.

Tony Maglio

Tony Maglio

TV Editor • tony.maglio@thewrap.com • Twitter: @tonymaglio



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