TV By the Numbers: What Were Audiences Watching Most in 2021?

Rashad Fenton #27 of the Kansas City Chiefs upends Austin Ekeler #30 of the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of a game at SoFi Stadium on December 16, 2021 in Inglewood, California.
(Image credit: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

There was plenty of TV for audiences to watch in 2021, but what were they tuned into most? We use data from Inscape, Vizio’s TV data product with glass-level insights from a panel of more than 19 million active and opted-in smart TVs, to measure what was driving viewership across linear, live TV.

Rankings are by percent share duration (i.e., time spent watching). Included below are some of the highlights from the year in TV, plus the top 25 programs by watch-time.

Winner’s Circle

The NFL and college football get top billing for 2021, capitalizing on an attentive audience throughout the fall season. NFL games are the most-watched programming of the year, with 2.7% of all minutes watched, while college football is second, with 1.3%.

Beyond football, other sports-related programs also piled up watch-time. NBA games are No. 4 by minutes watched on the year (at 0.76%), while SportsCenter is sixth (0.70%) and the Tokyo Olympics are seventh (0.66%). MLB games are just outside the top 10, at No. 11 overall.

Reruns Get Rewatched

Syndicated shows aren’t old news just because they’re “old” episodes. Audiences tune into previous episodes of favorite shows as a form of comfort food, as is the case with various programs among 2021’s most-watched.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Friends and Chicago P.D. are all among the top 10 by watch-time (No. 3, No. 9 and No. 10, respectively), and in total, 13 of the top 25 shows by minutes watched are all in some form of syndication on TV. Also just missing the list are other favorites like Golden Girls (No. 26, at 0.33% of watch-time); Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (No. 30); Family Feud (No. 32); and Home Town (No. 33).

Also: NBC Bringing Back ‘Law & Order’


News-related programs are also a fixture in terms of piling up minutes watched. Of the 25 most-watched shows, seven involve some sort of news element, led by Good Morning America with 0.73% of minutes watched. On the year, 12 of the top 40 shows by watch-time are either news or talk (or both), and half of those appear on cable networks.

Also: For Cable News, Real Disruption Finally Arrives

Top shows of 2021, according to Inscape

John Cassillo is an analyst and contributor with TV[R]EV.