Big Five Networks Down 12% In Prime-Time Season Viewers

As the end of the TV season draws near, the major five U.S. English-speaking networks are poised for another dismal year, according to one longtime Nielsen metric.

But considering all the issues resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, it might have been worse.

With just a few weeks to go before the official end of the TV season, total prime-time viewers dropped 12% to a collective 21.6 million viewers versus a year ago, for CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and the CW, according to Nielsen-measured live program-plus-same-day time-shifted viewing.

TV networks were plagued with late starts to the season for many prime-time shows, due to TV production delays. Nielsen data for this measure looked at the September 21, 2020-April 25, 2021 period versus the similar time period the year before.

CBS continued its longtime streak as No. 1 in total prime-time viewers at 6.26 million -- down 9% from a year ago. NBC was next, dropping by almost the same level -- down 10% to 5.39 million.

ABC offered up the best year-over-year results of the top five networks in terms of change -- slipping just 2% to an average 4.76 million viewers. On the other end of the spectrum, Fox had the biggest loss, declining 28% to 4.33 million viewers.

The CW was down 5% to 849,000 average prime-time viewers.

CBS also did well in other categories -- up 8% among 18-49 viewers to 1.29 million (for a 1.0 rating/6 share) and flat in 25-54 viewers at 1.69 million (1.4/7), and 22% more in 18-34 viewers at 427,000 (0.6/6). CBS' results benefited from the airing of the Super Bowl this past season.

Although Fox was down in all four categories -- 28% in total viewers; 30% in 25-54, 32% in 18-49, and 36% in 18-34 -- the network was still No. 1 in 18-49 viewers with 1.44 million (1.1/7), while among 18-34 viewers it came in at 507,000 viewers (0.7/7).

Those major declines reflect unfavorable comparisons to the previous season, when Fox had the Super Bowl. Fox’s unscripted show “The Masked Singer” is still a top Nielsen-measured prime-time program among 18-49 viewers -- averaging a 1.73 rating in the fall and a 1.22 rating for its spring edition.

NBC was tops in one category -- 25-54 viewers, with 1.75 million (1.4/7). NBC came in second to Fox in 18-49 viewers, with 1.38 million (1.1/7) Both demos for NBC were down 13% year-over-year.

1 comment about "Big Five Networks Down 12% In Prime-Time Season Viewers".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 30, 2021 at 12:14 p.m.

    Wayne, just a small point. We must remember that these "ratings" are what Nielsen calls "average commercial minute" ratings. They do not count anyone who zapped the commercials---which means that the actual rating for many shows---especially among the supposedly "coveted" 18-49s is considerably higher. And that's not counting audiences added via digital means. For example, if half of the actual "audience per minute" of a primetime network show zapped the commercials and Nielsen reports it had a 3% rating, the real rating---from a programmer's ----or  a viewers'----perspective is 6%. Add to that another 20-30% to account for those who watched at least five minutes---but not every minute---and the actual audience---in this case the "total audience"  rating could be 8%.

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