CBS Wins Prime-Time Ratings Crown

Tiffany net takes the 18-49 title for the first time in 21 years

After passing NBC in the ratings race back in early February, CBS never looked back, cruising to an easy win among total viewers and the two major demographics.

Per Nielsen, CBS will close out the 2012-13 broadcast TV season with an average prime-time delivery of 11.9 million viewers per night. The network beat runner-up ABC by 4 million viewers, giving it the largest margin of victory in 24 years.

CBS also cleaned up in the dollar demos, averaging a 2.9 among adults 18-49 and a 3.8 with the 25-54 set. This marks the first time in 21 years that the Tiffany Network has emerged victorious in the 18-49 race.

With 34 weeks of ratings data on the books (tonight marks the official end of the 2012-13 campaign), each of the five English-language broadcasters is down versus the year-ago period. Thanks to the Super Bowl and a robust lineup of hits like NCIS, The Big Bang Theory and Elementary, CBS dipped just 3 percent in the 18-49 demo.

Things were dicier at Fox, which dropped 22 percent to a 2.5 rating, snapping its eight-year winning streak. After getting off to a hot start in the fall, NBC cratered in the absence of Sunday Night Football and The Voice—the show went on a three-month hiatus from Dec. 18-March 25—and fell out of the running for good on week 19. The Peacock concludes the season with a 2.4 in the demo, down 4 percent versus 2011-12.

ABC again finished last among the Big Four, averaging a 2.2 in the demo, a decline of 8 percent. The CW’s 18-49 ratings (0.7, down 13 percent) are effectively irrelevant, given that the network guarantees deliveries of women 18-34 and adults 18-34.

The Spanish-language broadcasters Univision and Telemundo were the only major networks that did not lose ground. On the heels of beating NBC in February sweeps, Univision this season averaged a 1.5 in the demo—flat versus last year. Telemundo averaged a 0.6, an improvement of one-tenth of a ratings point.

Along with the ratings erosion, the networks all aged up to varying degrees. CBS remains the oldest net, reaching a median age of 56.2 years, up from the year-ago 55.6. ABC is the next-grayest net (53.3 years, up from 52.3), while NBC is a hair shy of the big 5-0 (49.6, up three-tenths of a point from 49.3).

Fox aged up from 46.2 to 46.6 years, while the CW’s median age jumped 12 percent from 37.1 to 41.7 years.

For the second consecutive season, NBC’s Sunday Night Football was the biggest draw in prime time, averaging 21.4 million viewers and an 8.2 in the dollar demo. The Sunday national games on Fox actually outdrew everything on the tube, delivering an average 24.8 million viewers. CBS also put up gaudy numbers with its late NFL broadcasts, averaging 23 million viewers per game.

After SNF, the top-rated broadcast series were: CBS’ The Big Bang Theory (5.3), Season 3 of NBC’s The Voice (4.3), Season 4 of The Voice (4.2 through the first 18 episodes) and ABC’s Modern Family (4.2). All deliveries are calculated from Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings data, which is statistically consistent with the C3 currency.

Leaving off the current season of The Voice (eight episodes remain), Fox’s American Idol (3.8) claims the No. 5 slot. Modern Family’s Season 4 finale airs tonight.

Of the 36 scripted series that debuted this season, 23 will not return for a second season. CBS renewed one of its five new shows (Elementary); Fox returned two (The Mindy Project, The Following); NBC gave a vote of confidence to a pair of dramas (Revolution, Chicago Fire), ABC brought back two (Nashville, The Neighbors) and the CW renewed three (Arrow, The Carrie Diaries, Beauty and the Beast).

NBC was particularly unforgiving, killing off five freshman comedies (Go On, The New Normal, Guys with Kids, Animal Practice, 1600 Penn), canceling the Dane Cook sitcom Next Caller before it ever aired, and relegating Save Me to a May 23 start date. No decision has been made as to Hannibal’s status.

The biggest winners from this year’s crop of newcomers? Fox’s The Following (2.6 in the 18-49 demo), NBC’s Revolution (2.6 with two episodes to go) and CBS’ Elementary (2.5 including the post-Super Bowl installment; 2.3 without).

All told, the Big Four’s new scripted series averaged a miserly 1.6 in the demo. Thankfully, the 2013-14 development slate appears to be far more promising than what was served up this season.