The Super Bowl and Winter Olympics Help NBC Repeat Its Season Win in the 18-49 Demo

CBS is No. 1 in total viewers for 10th straight year

ABC's Roseanne revival ended up as the season's No. 1 comedy in the 18-49 demo. Adam Rose/ABC
Headshot of Jason Lynch

As the 2017-18 TV season winds down this week, NBC is walking away with the 18-49 demo win for the second straight year, marking its fourth victory in the past five seasons.

The network is finishing the season as the most-watched network among the 18- to 49-year-olds most coveted by advertisers, with a 2.2 rating, thanks to Super Bowl LII and the Winter Olympics, which aired in February and generated more than $1.2 billion in ad revenue for NBCUniversal.

That was a commanding lead over fellow broadcasters Fox, CBS and ABC, all of which tied for second in the demo with a 1.5 rating. The CW trailed with a 0.6 rating. CBS, however, was once again the No. 1 network in total viewers (9.0 million) for the tenth straight season, just edging NBC (8.9 million) despite that network’s Super Bowl-Olympics one-two punch.

ABC, which had been mired in fourth place for five of the past six seasons, clawed its way out of the cellar and into a three-way tie for second thanks to two of the season’s biggest breakouts: its hugely successful revival of Roseanne and The Good Doctor, which was the top-rated freshman drama.

In addition to its 18-49 victory, NBC also won the season in adults, men and women 25-54, men and women 18-49 and adults, men and woman 18-34. The network says it’s the first time a network has won the season in every key demographic since Fox accomplished it 10 years ago.

NBC will have a tough time pulling off the 18-49 hat trick during the 2018-19 season, however, given that it won’t have the Super Bowl or Thursday Night Football, which is going to Fox for the next five years, and the next Olympics aren’t until the summer of 2020.

CBS looks to have the demo edge next season thanks to Super Bowl LIII, but ABC will look to Roseanne, which is coming back in the fall, to continue its late-season momentum. And during last week’s upfront, Fox execs said the network’s 18-49 demo rating would increase by double digits this fall thanks to Thursday Night Football.

Sunday Night Football remained the No. 1 broadcast series in the demo this season with a 6.2 rating. This Is Us was the highest-rated drama with a 5.4, while Roseanne topped all comedies with a 5.3. (Roseanne, which airs its season finale tonight, could still potentially challenge This Is Us for top-rated entertainment series in the demo.) The Walking Dead routinely topped all broadcast series in 18-49 for the past several seasons, but this season’s 5.3 rating ties it with Roseanne for third place.

In total viewers, The Big Bang Theory was the most-watched programming overall, averaging 18.8 million viewers. That just beat out Roseanne, with an 18.7 million-viewer average. (And depending on the ratings for tonight’s season finale, the ABC sitcom could still pull ahead of Big Bang.) Last season’s total ratings victor, Sunday Night Football, settled for third place, with 18.3 million. NCIS was the most-watched drama in total viewers, with 17 million.

Among broadcast networks, ABC (6.0 million) was third in total viewers, followed by Fox (4.9 million) and The CW (1.7 million).

(All ratings reflect Nielsen’s “most current” ratings, which is live-plus-7 for the entire season except for the last two weeks, which are live-plus-same-day.)

The linear ratings woes continued this season—just five years ago, NBC’s 2.1 demo rating would have left it tied for last place among the big four networks, as every network was down, year over year, except for NBC, whose 5 percent gain can be chalked up to the Super Bowl and Olympics.

Fox fell 21 percent year over year (it aired the Super Bowl last season), CBS was down 17 percent, ABC was off 6 percent and The CW saw a 14 percent drop.

In total viewers, CBS fell 7 percent, NBC jumped 10 percent, ABC dropped 3 percent, Fox declined 16 percent and The CW saw a 6 percent drop.

2017-18 September-to-May Season Averages
(average rating and audience through May 21)

Adults 18-49
NBC 2.2, 2.8 million
CBS 1.5, 2 million
ABC 1.5, 1.9 million
Fox 1.5, 1.9 million
The CW 0.6, 760,000

Total Viewers
CBS 9.0 million
NBC 8.9 million
ABC 6.0 million
Fox 4.9 million
The CW 1.7 million

The big four broadcast networks’ 18-49 season rankings over the past decade

NBC 2.2
CBS 1.5
ABC 1.5
Fox 1.5

NBC 2.1
Fox 1.9
CBS 1.8
ABC 1.6

CBS 2.3
NBC 2.1
Fox 1.9
ABC 1.8

NBC 2.4
CBS 2.3
ABC 2.2
Fox 1.9

NBC 2.7
Fox 2.5
CBS 2.4
ABC 2.1

CBS 2.9
Fox 2.5
NBC 2.4
ABC 2.2

Fox 3.2
CBS 3.0
NBC 2.5
ABC 2.4

Fox 3.5
CBS 2.9
ABC 2.5
NBC 2.3

Fox 3.7
CBS 3.2
ABC 2.7
NBC 2.7

Fox 3.6
CBS 3.1
ABC 2.9
NBC 2.8

Fox 4.2
ABC 3.0
CBS 3.0
NBC 2.8

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.