This Is Us Helps NBC Reclaim the Season Ratings Victory in the 18-49 Demo

CBS falls to No. 3 for 2016-17 but is tops in total viewers for 9th straight year

Breakout freshman series This Is Us was the season's No. 1 drama in the 18-49 demo. Ron Batzdorff/NBC
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As the 2016-17 TV season heads to the finish line, NBC has declared itself the victor in the 18-49 demo race, reclaiming the crown for the third time in four years and marking the first time in five years a network finished on top in the demo without the help of either the Super Bowl or the Olympics.

NBC is finishing the season No. 1 among 18- to 49-year-olds, with a 2.1 rating. CBS, which won the demo last year, slipped to third place but remained on top in total viewers (9.7 million) for the ninth straight season.

In addition to two NFL packages (Sunday Night Football and Thursday Night Football) and The Voice, NBC got additional help this year from This Is Us, the breakout freshman hit that finished as the season’s No. 2 broadcast entertainment series in the 18-49 demo.

Fox jumped up a spot to second place in the demo (1.9) on the strength of the Super Bowl, which drew 111.3 million viewers, and its seven-game World Series, in which the Chicago Cubs’ Game 7 win over the Cleveland Indians was the most-watched World Series game in 25 years.

CBS, last year’s demo king, may have slipped, but at last week’s upfront event, CEO Leslie Moonves—who on Monday extended his CBS deal through 2021—told buyers “that old idea of just one coveted demo is so dated. You know, like American Idol.” Of course, a year earlier, he was all too eager to tout CBS’ win in the demo (along with total viewers).

ABC was again in fourth place in the demo (1.6) and hopes its upcoming American Idol revival, which its broadcast competitors spent all of upfront week taking shots at, will keep it from a three-peat next season. The CW followed with a 0.7 demo rating.

NBC was second in total viewers with 8.1 million, followed by ABC (6.2 million), Fox (5.8 million) and The CW (1.8 million).

“It feels really great to win a season with no added help,” NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt told Adweek earlier this month. “We love having sports in our schedule, and we have some of the best franchises in the world. But when you take sports out of the equation, we’re still the No. 1 network with just entertainment programming, which wasn’t the case a couple of years ago.”

This is the first season in 13 years that NBC won the season in the demo in entertainment programs only (excluding sports and news) since Friends and Frasier ended in the 2003-04 season.

And with both the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics locked in for February, Greenblatt said, “Next season is kind of in the bag, I hate to say, given the heft of the sporting events.”

The year’s most-watched broadcast series in both total viewers and the 18-49 demo was NBC’s Sunday Night Football, with 20.1 million total viewers and a 6.9 demo rating. The No. 1 comedy in the demo was The Big Bang Theory (4.9), and the No. 1 drama was This Is Us (4.6).

However, AMC’s The Walking Dead once again bested all broadcast shows with an 8.0 rating in the demo this season.

The most-watched comedy in total viewers was The Big Bang Theory (18.5 million viewers), while NCIS led all dramas with 18.3 million viewers.

(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.)

Despite NBC and Fox’s demo gains this year, both networks were flat compared with last season. CBS fell 22 percent in the demo without the Super Bowl, ABC dropped 11 percent and The CW was down 13 percent.

In total viewers, CBS was off 11 percent year over year, NBC was flat, ABC was down 9 percent, Fox was up 1 percent and The CW fell 10 percent.

2016-17 September-to-May Season Averages
(average rating and audience through May 21)

Adults 18-49
NBC 2.1, 2.7 million
Fox 1.9, 2.4 million
CBS 1.8, 2.3 million
ABC 1.6, 2.1 million
The CW 0.7, 840,000

Total Viewers
CBS 9.7 million
NBC 8.1 million
ABC 6.2 million
Fox 5.8 million
The CW 1.8 million

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

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

Fox 4.0
CBS 3.7
ABC 3.5
NBC 3.1

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