For people involved in broadcast television, it was quite a rude awakening the morning of Premiere Tuesday when the fast nationals for the first night of the 2019-20 season came out. New series across the board were opening at Live+Same Day levels that even a year ago would have had networks sharpening the cancellation axe.
By Friday morning, those initially seeming paltry Monday ratings started looking pretty good as the threshold of what is considered acceptable Live+Dame Day ratings performance kept sliding down as the week went on amid a sea of L+SD 18-49 ratings in the 0.6-0.8 range and viewership in the ballpark of 4 million.
On the other end of the spectrum was new NBC Thursday comedy Sunnyside, which opened to a 0.4 18-49 rating and 1.78 million viewers in L+SD, numbers that had not seen yet for a Big 4 in-season scripted series debut. It was below the premiere of the new CW series to debut so far, Batwoman (0.5, 1.86 million).
Especially with its comedies, NBC is playing the long game, searching for another Good Place — a smart, single-camera comedy that is a modest linear performer but a digital hit and has the markings of another streaming blockbuster down the road like the network’s The Office and Parks & Recreations, both owned by NBCUniversal. Even with that in mind, NBC’s new comedies got off to a very inauspicious start with modest delayed viewing lifts.
There were no breakout new series during premiere week, with NFL football, Fox’s The Masked Singer and 9-1-1, NBC’s This Is Us and CBS’ NCIS leading the field.
This Is Us posted the biggest absolute Live+3 and Live+7 18-49 lifts, almost catching up with The Masked Singer, whose Season 2 opener remained the top entertainment program of Premiere Week in 18-49, followed by This Is Us as the No.1 scripted program. NCIS’ Season 17 debut was the most watched entertainment program with 16.9 million viewers in L+7, closing in on Fox’s Thursday Night Football.
But delayed viewing in the first seven days did not make up for the declines in Live+Same Day ratings as lifts also were generally smaller year-to-year. Last year, 13 Premiere Week series posted an 18-49 L+7 lift bigger than 1 rating. This year the number is six, led by This Is Us (1.6).
In 2018, six series logged 5 million+ Live+7 viewership gain; this year, there were only three, led by ABC’s The Good Doctor (+5.9 million). That means that the broadcast series will have to rely heavily on digital on-demand viewing and people watching beyond the initial seven-day window to curb audience erosion.
Besides Fox, which was up year-to-year in both 18-49 and total viewer Premiere Week averages on the strength of football, The Masked Singer and 9-1-1 — and without WWE SmackDown which debuted in Week 2 — all other broadcast networks were down year-to-year. And that is before the high-profile new competition from upcoming streamers, including Apple+, HBO Max and Peacock, joins the fray with dozens of new series for viewers to choose. NBC still topped Premiere Week with a 2.3 18-49 rating (L+7) and snapped CBS’ 10-year winning streak in total viewers with 9.4 million viewers. Last fall’s winning L7 totals were 2.6 in 18-49 (NBC) and 11 million viewers (CBS).
After a modest Live+SD showing for the freshman 2019 class during premiere week, there were some promising delayed viewing gains for ABC’s Stumptown (+1.0 in 18-49, 4.5 million viewers), followed by ABC”s Emergence (+0.8, 4.3 million) and Fox’s Prodigal Son (+0.8, 3.3 million), but as a whole, freshmen failed to make a strong impression even after playback viewing.
Last year, there were two new series in Top 10 and 5 in Top 20 entertainment programs of Premiere Week among 18-49; this year there are no series in the Top 10 and only one in Top 20, Prodigal Son. In total viewers, there were three new series in the Top 10, six in the Top 20 last year. This year, no new series cracked the Top 20.
NBC’s Manifest debut last fall (18.4 million, 4.2 in 18-49) was the most watched entertainment program of Premiere Week and second highest-rated in 18-49 (L+7). This year, Prodigal Son was the No. 1 new series in 18-49 (L7), ABC’s Stumptown was tops in total viewers (9.1 million) and second in the demo.
It was an impressive climb for the ABC series starring Cobie Smulders, which was No.6 in viewers among newcomers in L+SD.
Stumptown also scored the biggest % lift of Premiere Week in 18-49 (143%), while Emergence had the biggest % gain in total viewers (105%)
Here are full Premiere Week Live+7 rankers in 18-49 and total viewers.