6 Big Takeaways From the First Week of the New TV Season

Linear ratings continue to fall, but don't discount broadcast just yet

Thursday Night Football, This Is Us, Will & Grace and Young Sheldon all drew big ratings last week.
Sources: Getty Images, NBC, CBS

The first full week of the 2017-18 season is in the books, and while ratings were down overall, the news was better than expected for several of the broadcasters, who were able to attract sizable audiences to their biggest new and returning shows.

NBC, which won last season in the 18-49 demo, continued its streak, topping the other broadcasters with a 2.1 rating. CBS was second with a 1.9—but had a commanding lead in total viewers with 9.5 million, almost 2 million more than second place NBC—followed by ABC (1.3) and Fox (1.0). (The CW, which doesn’t premiere its fall shows until next week, is excluded from this analysis.)

Here are the six biggest takeaways from the first week of the new TV season:

1. Linear ratings continue to fall

The steady exodus from live linear viewing continues, as three out of the four broadcast networks were down double-digits in the 18-49 demo versus the first week of the 2016-17 season. NBC fell 16 percent (from a 2.5 to a 2.1), CBS dropped 24 percent (from a 2.5 to a 1.9) and Fox had a 17 percent drop (from a 1.2 to 1.0). ABC was flat with a 1.3.

Anticipating this continued linear slide, all of the broadcast network presidents insisted during the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour that their networks are stronger than ever, given that many of their shows double their audiences in delayed viewing on several platforms. However, they’re still not able to fully monetize those viewers.

2. Sizable linear sampling is still possible

For all of the hand-wringing about the inability to get audiences to watch linear TV, the networks were able to attract larger audiences to sample some of their biggest shows—and the ones buyers picked as their best bets for fall—Young Sheldon and The Good Doctor.

The Big Bang Theory prequel Young Sheldon, which CBS scheduled after The Big Bang Theory’s season premiere, was watched by 17.2 million viewers, earning a 3.8 rating in the demo and making it the most-watched comedy premiere on any network since 2011. Two days later, CBS gave the series a full-season order. But now the network will have to make sure that audiences haven’t forgotten about the show when it returns on Nov. 2, a scheduling approach that CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl admitted was “unusual.”

ABC, which has struggled to find traction for its 10 p.m. dramas, had some great news last Monday with The Good Doctor—which ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey told Adweek would be her most improved time slot this fall. The drama improved on its Dancing with the Stars lead-in, with 11.2 million viewers and a 2.2 demo rating, and maintained that audience for its second week, which is rare among freshman shows. UPDATE: ABC gave The Good Doctor a full-season pickup on Tuesday afternoon.

3. This Is Us hasn’t peaked yet

After last year’s breakout hit This Is Us wrapped its first season, NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt told Adweek, “I think this show will continue to grow” as more viewers catch up over the summer. That feeling was shared by Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversal’s chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships, who made the show one of her centerpieces during upfront negotiations.

Greenblatt and Yaccarino’s hunches were proven correct, as last Tuesday’s Season 2 premiere set new series records in total viewers (12.9 million) and the 18-49 demo (3.9), growing from the Season 1 finale (which drew 12.8 million viewers ad 3.4 in the demo). In live-plus-3 numbers, This Is Us overtook The Big Bang Theory as the No. 1 show in the demo, 5.7 to 5.5.

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