The Walking Dead and Sunday Night Football Were 2017’s Most-Watched Shows in the 18-49 Demo

NBC, ESPN and TBS were tops among networks

18- to 49-year-olds once again flocked to Sunday Night Football and The Walking Dead this year. Getty Images, Gene Page, AMC
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Peak TV has disrupted the television industry over the past few years, but as the dust settles on a year in which more than 500 scripted series aired, along with 750-plus unscripted shows, the most-watched programs in the 18-49 demo that advertisers crave most were … the very same ones that have come out on top over the past couple years.
The Walking Dead and Sunday Night Football were 2017’s most-watched shows for the year among 18- to 49-year-olds, according to Nielsen’s live-plus-7 stats.
The Walking Dead reigned supreme among all cable and broadcast shows with a 7.0 demo rating (9.02 million viewers 18-49). Among broadcast programs, Sunday Night Football was tops with a 6.4 rating (8.22 million).
A second cable series, Game of Thrones, also had a higher demo rating than any broadcast entertainment show. The HBO drama averaged a 6.2 rating (8.02 million) this season. The most-watched broadcast drama in the demo was This Is Us (5.1, 6.6 million), while The Big Bang Theory was No. 1 among comedies (4.6, 5.91 million).
Here are the year’s top 10 broadcast and cable shows in the 18-49 demo (live-plus-7, through Nov. 19):

  1. The Walking Dead, AMC (7.0 rating, 9.02 million demo viewers)
  2. Sunday Night Football, NBC (6.4, 8.22 million)
  3. Game of Thrones, HBO (6.2, 8.02 million)
  4. This Is Us, NBC (5.1, 6.60 million)
  5. The Big Bang Theory, CBS (4.6, 5.91 million)
  6. Thursday Night Football, CBS (4.5, 5.83 million)
  7. Sunday Night Football Preshow, NBC (4.5, 5.75 million)
  8. The Good Doctor, ABC (4.1, 5.24 million)
  9. The OT, Fox (4.0, 5.21 million)
  10. (tie) Monday Night Football, ESPN (3.9, 5.00 million) and Young Sheldon, CBS (3.9, 5.00 million)

Looking at the year’s top 10 regularly scheduled shows among total viewers, the broadcast programs moved further up the list, with only one cable show hanging on (live-plus-7, through Nov. 19):

  1. Sunday Night Football, NBC (18.58 million)
  2. The Big Bang Theory, CBS (18.52 million)
  3. The Good Doctor, ABC (17.96 million)
  4. Young Sheldon, CBS (17.76 million)
  5. NCIS, CBS (17.70 million)
  6. This Is Us, NBC (16.52 million)
  7. America’s Got Talent (Tuesday), NBC (16.03 million)
  8. The Walking Dead, AMC (14.80 million)
  9. America’s Got Talent (Wednesday), NBC (14.70 million)
  10. Bull, CBS (14.42 million)

The most-watched single telecast programs of 2017 were, not surprisingly, dominated by sports events, while the other two slots on the list went to awards shows (live-plus-7, through Nov. 19):

  1. Super Bowl LI, Fox (112.00 million)
  2. Super Bowl LI Post Game, Fox (61.49 million)
  3. AFC Championship Game (Pittsburgh Steelers-New England Patriots), CBS (48.09 million)
  4. AFC Divisional Playoff (Pittsburgh Steelers-Kansas City Chiefs), NBC (37.29 million)
  5. The Oscars, ABC (34.18 million)
  6. AFC Divisional Playoff (Houston Texans-New England Patriots), CBS (30.02 million)
  7.  NFC Divisional Playoff (Green Bay Packers-Dallas Cowboys), Fox (28.92 million)
  8. World Series Game 7, Fox (28.37 million)
  9. Grammy Awards, CBS (27.63 million)
  10. NFC Wild Card Game (Detroit Lions-Seattle Seahawks), NBC (27.01 million)

Among broadcast networks in 2017, NBC came out on top in the 18-49 demo (live-plus-7, to Dec. 3), with 2.27 million viewers. The network was followed by Fox (1.90 million), CBS (1.85 million), ABC (1.83 million), Univision (738,000), Telemundo (698,000) and The CW (696,000).
In total viewers (also live-plus-7 prime, to Dec. 3), CBS moved to No. 1 with 8.02 million. NBC came in second (7.30 million), followed by ABC (5.62 million), Fox (4.76 million), Univision (1.66 million), The CW (1.59 million) and Telemundo (1.38 million).
On the cable network front, ESPN was the top draw the 18-49 demo, with an average of 769,000 prime-time viewers in the demo (live-plus-7, to Dec. 3). TBS was second (694,000), followed by USA (691,000), TNT (581,000) and Adult Swim (554,000). Rounding out the top 10 were Discovery (527,000), AMC (510,000), FX (497,000), Bravo (477,000) and HGTV (426,000).
Among total viewers in 2017, two cable news networks cracked the top 10 list. Fox News Channel came out on top with an average prime-time audience of 2.48 million (live-plus-7, to Dec. 3). ESPN dropped to second (1.81 million)—followed by USA (1.68 million), MSNBC (1.67 million) and TBS (1.55 million)—in the top 5. The rest of the top 10 were as follows: HGTV (1.54 million), Discovery (1.37 million), History (1.34 million), Nickelodeon (1.319 million) and TNT (1.318 million).


@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV/Media Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.