Throwback Thursday! CBS & Fox Poised To Top TV Season Rankings, Again

Over a year that has seen the world turn upside down several times on several fronts, television ratings have proven resolute, sort of.

While the numbers are down almost everywhere from the lows of the Super Bowl and the Oscars and all ports of call, it looks pretty certain that for the second year in a row Fox will top the demo and CBS will be the most network.

Now, the traditional season isn’t actually over until May 26, but, based on data from Nielsen, Fox has a 1.1 rating among adults 18-49. Accordingly, looking at numbers tallied up until April 25, this year’s Super Bowl broadcaster CBS is averaging about 6.3 million primetime viewers.

For the ViacomCBS-owned broadcaster, that’s down just over 18% from where they were at the near end of the 2019-2020 season last May. However, a win in still a win in the eyes of the victor and many others, and the fact is CBS has been the most watched network for the past 13 years in a row.

Right now, the Charlie Collier-run net is tied with NBC for first place among the advertiser friendly 18-49s, but projections show Fox is on a trajectory to take the lead by the end of the old skool season. Of note – Fox is hitting the high note even without having the l Super Bowl, the biggest draw in TV, like they did for the 2019-2020 season.

In CBS’ case, no one is catching up to them and their lead of more than almost 1 million viewers.

The home of that blockbuster Oprah hosted sit-down with Meghan and Harry is approximately 16% in front of NBC (5.4 million) and 32% ahead of ABC (4.8 million), plus a 45% jump on Fox (4.33 million). With a 1.0 rating in the key demo, the HQ of powerhouses The Equalizer and Young Sheldon is the only one of the Big 4 to see an uptick in the 18-49s this uncertain year over their 2019-2020 results.

“In a season complicated by production delays and scheduling interruptions, it feels very gratifying to deliver another winning schedule, launch television’s biggest new hit and broadcast one of the most memorable prime time events in recent years,” CBS Entertainment boss Kelly Kahl said today of the preliminary data. “The performance of our amazing, premium quality series continues to dominate the network landscape, while adding valuable reach through the company’s many digital offerings,” the exec added.

Once again, The Masked Singer was a big part of Fox’s continuing success, with Call Me Kat and the Ken Jeong hosted I Can See Your Voice coming in as the top new comedy and unscripted shows respectively. With the loss of the NFL’s Thursday Night Football looming for the 2023 season, Fox has also seen the hard consequences of the overall ratings erosion If this year’s result holds, the Murdoch-owned network will be down a harsh 35% in the demo from its victory in the September – May 2019-2020 season.

Like all things in life, there are a few caveats here too.

The estimation of the what actually constitutes the TV Season has been a contested notion the past few years. September to May is the traditional spread, but in the 21st century, September to September also a valid metric in many a network’s eyes.

Especially if you are NBC, with that strong America’s Got Talent showing every summer.

Generally, it is impossible to empirically determine the lumps handed out to the networks due to the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone hurt, as R.E.M. once said, but few likely took a body blow like the Comcast-owned NBC with the March 2020 postponement of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo because of a then surging Covid-19. Set to run from July 24 – August 9 last year, the XXXII Olympiad not only TKO’d NBC’s summer but initially hobbled the debut of Peacock. In a move to come out of the gate strong and snare subscribers, the streamer had planned to blanket the Games with live and BTS coverage not seen on the main network – which clearly didn’t happen.

The vital role live sports play in the rise and fall of networks and their ratings cannot be overstated, especially in this time of seeming slumps. For instance, if you took sports out of the equation, ABC would be the top rated broadcaster with a 0.9. The alphabet net takes the Gold medal over Fox by 13% in the 18-49 demo, and does better than NBC and CBS by 29%.

Presently, the now 2021 Summer Olympics is penciled in to start on July 23. However, as much of Japan has just gone into another lockdown because of the coronavirus, the prospects of the Games, fans in the stands or not, actually happening is still a bit fluid.

What is not fluid is that we will have final TV season numbers next month, and we will update then – even if the difference from today is incremental.

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