Viewership Deep Dive: Fall Dramas Are Back — Here’s How They’re Measuring Up

With fall TV in full swing, we looked into viewership and advertising trends around five popular broadcast dramas: NCIS on CBS, The Good Doctor on ABC, This Is Us on NBC, Empire on Fox and Grey’s Anatomy on ABC. Below, advertising insights courtesy of, viewership crossover stats from Inscape, fans’ emotional drivers from Canvs and a look at the shows’ social video footprints from Tubular Labs. (Note: the data is through Oct. 14 and covers new episodes only.)

As you may expect, brands have shelled out the most for megahit This Is Us, with an estimated total spend of $28.9 million on the first few episodes this season, according to advertising analytics firm iSpot. TJ Maxx has been the biggest spender, followed by Verizon and Universal Pictures.

Notably, Universal Pictures has been one of the top five spenders for The Good Doctor and Grey’s Anatomy as well, and movie studios in general make the top five list of big-spending industries in four out of these five series (they haven’t spent big for NCIS yet).

When looking at viewer attention during commercials across the dramas, Empire is the only show with an overall positive attention score. Spots during its episodes have gotten an average iSpot Attention Index of 111, receiving 11% fewer interruptions than the average ad (interruptions include changing the channel, pulling up the guide, fast-forwarding or turning off the TV). 

Viewership data from Inscape, the TV measurement company with glass-level data from a panel of more than 9 million smart TVs and devices, shows varied crossover among these series. Some specific insights:

  • Empire watchers are most likely to also watch This Is Us (26%) and Grey’s Anatomy (25%).
  • Fans of Grey’s Anatomy tune in to This Is Us far more than the other shows (36%).
  • 25% of people who watch NCIS also tune into This Is Us, while 24% watch Grey’s Anatomy.
  • The Good Doctor viewers have the most crossover with the other shows, with 39% watching Grey’s Anatomy and 39% watching This Is Us.
  • Fans of This Is Us tune into Grey’s Anatomy more than the other shows (32%). 

We also partnered with emotion measurement AI company Canvs to discover what was driving viewers’ emotional reactions to each of these series — and for each show, it was all about the characters. Fans simply adore the fictional folks portrayed in each series. For NCIS, Nick Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) and Gibbs (Mark Harmon) got people talking, while viewers of The Good Doctor like to discuss Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore). Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) are fan-favorites for This Is Us viewers, and Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) reigns supreme when it comes to driving viewer emotion during Empire. And finally, it’s Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) who gets people emotional when they watch Grey’s Anatomy.

There appears to be an interesting difference between these series when it comes to online video performance. An analysis from social video analytics company Tubular reveals that while Facebook is a primary destination for episode clips and promos for most of the shows (and the social network also garners high view counts for each), Empire stands out in having its most-watched videos — two show promos with 2.2 million and 1 million views, respectively — on Twitter.

It’s also worth noting that This Is Us is the only show to have a clip from an actual episode as its most-watched: “Kate’s Emotional Birthday Wish” has received 1.1 million views on Facebook since it was uploaded on Sept. 26, 1 million of which occurred in the first three days, according to Tubular’s V3 rating.

Looking at overall views, Grey’s Anatomy stands out with one clip (a promotion for the season premiere posted to Facebook) snagging 3.5 million views, 3.4 million of which occurred in the first three days, according to Tubular’s V3 rating.