UPDATED: CBS has the two top-rated regularly scheduled programs in 2016, according to a new study from Nielsen, with The Big Bang Theory leading the way at 19.94 million average viewers and NCIS a hair behind at 19.89 million; both had a 6.7 rating. Notably, the two finished ahead of Sunday Night Football on NBC, at 19.28 million (6.4 rating).
Nielsen measured live-plus-seven viewership. CBS is traditionally a power in total viewing, while other networks tick up in terms of key advertising demographics.
NBC Sports took issue with Nielsen's findings, playing up Sunday Night Football's strength in live viewing and younger demos. SNF is averaging nearly 20.1 million viewers (live+same day) for 2016, noted a spokesperson, who added: "We’re disappointed in this Nielsen report, which shortchanges our viewership on a number of fronts. It excludes our NFL Kickoff Game, which has always been included in Sunday Night Football season viewership. The report also ends the ‘year’ on Nov. 6, before many highly-rated SNF games are played.”
But CBS dominated Nielsen's list. Rounding out the top ten are AMC’s The Walking Dead (18.82 million), CBS’ Bull (17.65 million), CBS’ NCIS: New Orleans (15.62 million), ABC’s Designated Survivor (14.92 million), Thursday Night Football on CBS and NFL Network (14.79 million) and CBS’ Blue Bloods at 14.41 million.
Not surprisingly, Super Bowl 50, also on CBS, was the top-rated show of the year with a 37.9 rating and 112.58 million total viewers. The post-game was next at 70.26 million, followed by the World Series Game 7 on Fox (40.27 million) and the Oscars on ABC (35.61 million).
The rest of the top ten had NBC’s Summer Olympics on Aug. 9, NBC’s NFL playoffs Jan. 16, Olympics Aug. 11, CBS’ AFC wildcard playoff game Jan. 9, CBS’ AFC division playoffs post-game Jan. 17, and the NBA Finals Game 7 on ABC.
The year’s top Spanish-language shows were Hasta Que Te Conoci on Telemundo (2.79 million total viewers), Wednesday's Por Siempre Joan Sebastian on Univision (2.42 million) and Thursday's Pasion Y Poder on Univision at 2.41 million. Other nights’ airings of Por Siempre Joan Sebastian and Pasion Y Poder held all but one of the remaining top ten slots.
The most time-shifted shows on TV this year, ranked by percentage increase in viewers from delayed viewing, were on cable: AMC’s Better Call Saul, American Horror Story on FX, The People v. O.J. Simpson on FX, Suits on USA and The Real Housewivesof Orange County on Bravo.
When ranked by absolute difference between live and live-plus-seven, the top time-shifted show was The Walking Dead, followed by Big Bang Theory, followed by Designated Survivor and Game of Thrones.
“In the end, viewing audiences were the real winners, as they were able to enjoy some compelling content and watch what and when they wanted to via time-shifting. While the usual drama heavy weights still benefit greatly from live-plus-seven viewing, reality TV offerings prove it’s not all zombies and dragons. In fact, the reality genre accounted for almost one-third of the Top 10 list when ranking on the percent lift from time shifted viewing.”
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.