Ratings: NBC, CBS Win Season Titles; ABC Comes On Strong

CW draws largest audience since '08, while Telemundo rises too

End of Season Network Ratings 2015

NBC and CBS were the season’s ratings winners in key demo categories, and Fox had the hottest new show in years, but the best story of the 2014-15 television season just might have belonged to ABC.

The Alphabet emerged as the only major network to draw a larger young-adult audience this season than last, thanks in large part to a strong rookie class that included hits “How to Get Away With Murder” and “Black-ish” as well as other solid newcomers like “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Secrets and Lies.” “The Goldbergs” blossomed in in its second year, while veterans like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” “Modern Family” and “Shark Tank” also continued to produce.

CBS introduced new drama hit “Scorpion” and renewed four other first-year shows, while Fox launched megahit “Empire” and solid newcomer “Gotham” and the CW discovered its biggest hit to date, “The Flash.” NBC, on the other hand, was unable to find any new hits, with modestly rated drama “The Mysteries of Laura” its only show from this season to return in the fall.

Overall, according to Nielsen “most current” adults 18-49 estimates, the top three networks were closely bunched in all-program averages for the 2014-15 television season that ends Wednesday. Through Sunday, NBC led with a 2.40 rating/8 share, edging out CBS (2.32/7), with ABC another tick back (2.17/7) and Fox in fourth (1.95/6), down about 20% from last year when it aired both the Super Bowl and NFC Championship game.

In the “live plus same-day” season program rankings, ABC and CBS had eight of the top 25 non-sports series in adults 18-49, while Fox had six and NBC possessed four. In Live+7 day, ABC and CBS had nine of the top 25 (actually top 26 due to ties), with NBC and Fox at four apiece.

NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” despite plenty of lopsided games, was again the No. 1 primetime broadcast series in all key demos and the most-watched series overall in same-night viewership.

The Peacock benefited from airing the Super Bowl, and that’s what pushed it past the Eye for the season’s 18-49 crown; with the Super Bowl removed from NBC’s averages, CBS would have prevailed by a tenth (2.35 vs. 2.25). And if all sports were removed, ABC (the only Big Four network that doesn’t air NFL games) would have narrowly finished on top (2.2 to 2.1 for CBS).

NBC won among adults 18-34,  while CBS led in adults 25-54 (3.2 vs. 3.0 for NBC), matching last year’s average when it finished a tick behind the Peacock. The Eye also made it look easy once again in total viewers, up from last year and beating runner-up NBC by about 2.6 million — the network’s seventh straight victory and its 12th in the last 13 years.

While ABC was the only network to post gains in 18-49, CW had a solid season across the board. It held steady in 18-49 and 18-34, grew a bit in adults 25-54 and drew its largest overall audience (2.1 million) in seven years. “The Flash” became the network’s top-rated new series launch to date.

Spanish-language Univision again finished as the No. 4 network in adults 18-49 (ahead of CW), despite a slight decline; the net will finish the May sweep as No. 2 in adults 18-34. And Telemundo rose in 18-49 (0.6 vs. 0.5) and total viewers (1.33 million vs. 1.30 million), getting a lift from super-series “El Senor de los Cielos” (Lord of the Skies), which has consistently won its 10 p.m. hour over Univision in young-adult demos.

Here’s a look at some network highlights:


A lack of production from first-year series is what kept NBC from winning by a wider margin for the season in a year when it aired the Super Bowl. Still, as the net points out, it finished fourth three years ago when it aired the Super Bowl, so it’s clear that NBC has a stronger foundation from which to build.

Perhaps the best ratings story for NBC this season was the performance of the “Chicago” shows, with “Chicago Fire” on Tuesday and “Chicago PD” on Wednesday winning their timeslots in adults 18-49 most weeks. Another Dick Wolf show, “Law & Order: SVU,” had its largest overall average audience in four years.

NBC’s three-hour February telecast commemorating the 40th anniversary of “Saturday Night Live” was one of the season’s highest-rated non-sports programs, averaging a 7.8 rating in 18-49 and more than 23 million viewers overall.

“The Voice” lost some steam, but remained TV’s No. 1 unscripted program in 18-49. And though “The Blacklist” fell off as it moved to Thursday Island, it remained a big DVR draw; combined with its early-season Monday averages, the James Spader drama finished as the fourth most-popular broadcast drama among adults 18-49 (Live+7 for original episodes).

This was the second straight television season that NBC has finished No. 2 in total viewers, marking the first two times in the post-“Friends” era (the 2003-04 season) that it had finished higher than fourth place.


Overall, it was a good but unspectacular season for CBS, which got a boost from “Thursday Night Football” but was still down a tenth in 18-49. The net did match its year-ago average in adults 25-54 while rising 5% in total viewers.

“Scorpion” emerged as one of the season’s biggest new hits, providing the net a much-needed Monday boost and setting the table for “Supergirl” as its lead-in this fall as the net looks to add more younger viewers. CBS also added “NCIS: New Orleans,” which retained most of its progenitor’s lead-in and became the most-watched first-year series in the 10 years since ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” bowed, and its “The Odd Couple” was the season’s No. 1 new comedy in adults 25-54.

“Madam Secretary” made for a good fit between “60 Minutes” and “The Good Wife,” and “CSI: Cyber” had a solid run late in the season and is the heir apparent to the “CSI” franchise as the original exits as a regular series after 15 seasons.

Among veterans, “The Big Bang Theory” remained TV’s top-rated comedy in 18-49 as well as total viewers, meaning the network has now had the most popular comedy for 11 straight seasons (beginning in 2004-05 with “Everybody Loves Raymond”). And “NCIS” continued its rule as TV’s most-watched drama for a sixth straight season — the 13th time in the last 14 seasons that the Eye has had the most-watched drama.

And of course, there’s “Survivor,” which has lived up to its name by winning its time period with its 30th(!) edition.


The net’s Shonda Rhimes shows, also known as “TGIT,” was one of the biggest stories of the season. The move of “Grey’s Anatomy” to the leadoff spot enabled the network to stack three shows from the producer on one night — and they ended up as three of the season’s top five dramas in adults 18-49. (ABC Studios could actually claim four of the top six, including CBS’ “Criminal Minds,” which it co-produces with CBS TV Studios.) Overall, ABC was up nearly 20% on Thursdays this season, to its best averages in both 18-49 and total viewers in five years.

While NBC and CBS have cut back on comedies, ABC will air more half-hours this fall (eight) than those networks combined (six).  “Modern Family” remained TV’s No. 2 comedy in 18-49 and seemed to be reinvigorated by having what is to date its strongest skedmates on either side of it (“The Goldbergs” and “Black-ish”). “Goldbergs” was one of the season’s biggest growth stories, up 27% from its rookie season (when it aired on Tuesday) and improving its Wednesday 8:30 p.m. timeslot by a whopping 56%.

Other shows that improved time periods this season included “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” and the Friday duo of “Last Man Standing” and “20/20,” which teamed with the night’s top show, “Shark Tank,” to give ABC Friday growth in 18-49 for a fourth straight year.

ABC leads the season in key upscale (non-sports) ratings categories, beating runner-up NBC by 16% and third-place CBS by 17% among adults 18-49 in homes with $100,000-plus annual income and claiming eight of the top 15 shows. “Modern Family” was the No. 1 series overall, and “Scandal” was the top drama.

The Alphabet heads into next season with momentum, having won the May sweep in 18-49 for a second straight year and finishing first or second in 14 of the season’s final 16 weeks. The net’s success and confidence could be seen in its fall schedule, with only minor changes to a lineup that won most weeks in the demo down the stretch.


“Empire.” The soap became appointment viewing this winter, coming out of nowhere to vault ahead of “The Big Bang Theory” and become the season’s No. 1 broadcast entertainment series in 18-49. It grew nearly every week in the demo and finished with the highest average for any broadcast drama since ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy” in 2007-08, and the highest for any new drama since those shows bowed in the 2004-05 season. In total viewers, “Empire” grew with every single episode — rising from 9.9 million for its premiere and peaking with 17.6 million for its finale.

“Gotham” finishes as the No. 2 new broadcast drama in 18-49 and No. 1 in all key male demos, while “The Last Man on Earth” was a solid late-season performer (while drawing what Fox says is the network’s largest-ever non-linear audience for a comedy: 4.8 million).

In its second year, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” was up 9% in 18-49 vs. its rookie-season average on Tuesdays and performed well in key upscale demo categories. And “MasterChef Junior” was television’s No. 1 cooking show in 18-49 and total viewers — and the only broadcast reality show to increase vs. last season.

The net continues to look best in the younger half of the 18-49 demo, claiming seven of the top 20 broadcast series among adults 18-34. “The Last Man on Earth” ranked No. 1 among new comedies in this demo.


This was the network’s most-watched season in seven years, and also its most-watched among adult men since the same 2007-08 season. Much of this can be attributed to “The Flash,” the latest superhero saga from Greg Berlanti, which is CW’s most-watched series ever (6.1 million viewers in Live+7 for original episodes). In adults 18-49, “Flash” finished ahead of Big Four vets like “CSI,” “Revenge,” “Bones” and “Grimm.”

“Jane the Virgin” was more of a critical fave than a ratings grabber in its first season, but the hourlong comedy helped provide substantial timeslot gains for the network: up 33% and about 40% bigger in both adults 18-34 and 18-49 vs. the year-ago Monday 9 p.m. programming.

And Wednesday was another night of growth, as “Arrow” — boosted in part by some crossover storylines with “The Flash” — was up vs. last year in 18-34, 18-49, all key male demos as well as total viewers.


(All programs; “most current” ratings through May 17)

Adults 18-49 rating
NBC……………………… 2.40   (2.4)
CBS………………………. 2.32   (2.3)
ABC………………………. 2.17   (2.2)
Fox ………………………. 1.95    (1.9)
Univision…………………. 1.10    (1.1)
CW ………………………. 0.83   (0.8)
Telemundo……………….. 0.56   (0.6)

Adults 25-54 rating
CBS……………………… 3.19   (3.2)
NBC …………………….. 3.00  (3.0)
ABC ……………………..  2.71   (2.7)
Fox ………………………  2.30  (2.3)
Univision ………………..  1.18   (1.2)
CW ………………………  0.91  (0.9)
Telemundo ………………  0.61   (0.6)

Adults 18-34 rating
NBC ……………………..  1.71   (1.7)
ABC ……………………..  1.57   (1.6)
Fox ………………………  1.56   (1.6)
CBS ……………………..  1.40   (1.4)
Univision ………………..  0.94  (0.9)
CW ………………………  0.71   (0.7)
Telemundo……………….  0.47   (0.5)

Total Viewers
CBS ……………………..  11.25 million
NBC ……………………..    8.63 million
ABC ……………………..    7.96 million
Fox ………………………    5.82 million
Univision ………………..    2.89 million
CW ………………………    2.13 million
Telemundo ………………    1.33 million


Live + same-day (originals only)

Adults 18-49 rating
1.  Sunday Night Football (NBC), 7.3
2.  Thursday Night Football (CBS/NFLN), 5.9
3.  Empire (Fox), 5.0
4.  The Big Bang Theory (CBS), 4.3
5.  Modern Family (ABC), 3.3
6.  The Voice-Monday (NBC), 3.2
6.  The Voice-Tuesday (NBC), 3.2
8.  How to Get Away With Murder (ABC), 3.0
9.  Scandal (ABC), 2.9
10.  NCIS (CBS), 2.5
11.  The Blacklist (NBC), 2.4
11.  Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), 2.4
11.  The Bachelor (ABC), 2.4
14.  The Odd Couple (CBS), 2.3
14.  Scorpion (CBS), 2.3
14.  Black-ish (ABC), 2.3
14.  Two and a Half Men (CBS), 2.3
14.  Survivor (CBS), 2.3
14.  Mom (CBS), 2.3
14.  American Idol-Thursday (Fox), 2.3
21.  The Simpsons (Fox), 2.2
21.  Family Guy (Fox), 2.2
21.  The Goldbergs (ABC), 2.2
21.  Criminal Minds (CBS), 2.2
21.  Gotham (Fox), 2.2
21.  Once Upon a Time (ABC), 2.2

Total Viewers (in millions)
1.  Sunday Night Football (NBC), 20.69
2.  NCIS (CBS), 17.36
3.  Thursday Night Football (CBS/NFLN), 16.96
4.  The Big Bang Theory (CBS), 16.06
5.  NCIS: New Orleans (CBS), 15.33
6.  Dancing With the Stars (ABC), 13.27
7.  Empire (Fox), 12.73
8.  The Voice-Tuesday (NBC), 12.22
9.  60 Minutes (CBS), 12.09
10.  The Voice-Monday (NBC), 11.96
11.  Madam Secretary (CBS), 11.80
12.  Blue Bloods (CBS), 11.30
13.  Scorpion (CBS), 10.90
14.  The Odd Couple (CBS), 10.43
15.  Criminal Minds (CBS), 10.28
16.  Mom (CBS), 10.13
17.  Two and a Half Men (CBS), 9.83
18.  How to Get Away With Murder (ABC), 9.76
19.  The Good Wife (CBS), 9.75
20.  American Idol-Thursday (Fox), 9.61
21.  The Blacklist (NBC), 9.59
22.  Modern Family (ABC), 9.55
23.  Hawaii Five-0 (CBS), 9.53
24.  Survivor (CBS), 9.52
25.  Person of Interest (CBS), 9.42

Live +7 (originals only)

Adults 18-49
1.   Sunday Night Football (NBC), 7.3
2.  Empire (Fox), 7.1
3.  The Big Bang Theory (CBS), 6.5
4.  Thursday Night Football (CBS/NFLN), 5.9
5.  Modern Family (ABC), 5.4
6.  How to Get Away With Murder (ABC), 5.0
7.  Scandal (ABC), 4.5
8.  The Blacklist (NBC), 4.2
9.  The Voice-Monday (NBC), 4.1
10.  The Voice-Tuesday (NBC), 4.0
11.  Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), 3.9
12.  Gotham (Fox), 3.7
13.  Criminal Minds (CBS), 3.6
13.  NCIS (CBS), 3.6
13.  Scorpion (CBS), 3.6
16.  Once Upon a Time (ABC), 3.3
16.  Black-ish (ABC), 3.3
18.  Family Guy (Fox), 3.2
19.  The Goldbergs (ABC), 3.1
19.  Two and a Half Men (CBS), 3.1
19.  Survivor (CBS), 3.1
22.  The Bachelor (ABC), 3.0
22.  Chicago Fire (NBC), 3.0
24.  Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (ABC), 2.9
24.  NCIS: New Orleans (CBS), 2.9
24.  Mom (CBS), 2.9
24.  American Idol-Thursday (Fox), 2.9

Total Viewers (in millions)

1.  NCIS (CBS), 21.28
1.  The Big Bang Theory (CBS), 21.28
3.  Sunday Night Football (NBC), 20.81
4.  NCIS: New Orleans (CBS), 18.48
5.  Empire (Fox), 17.33
6.  Thursday Night Football (CBS/NFLN), 17.09
7.  The Blacklist (NBC), 15.25
8.  Scorpion (CBS), 15.23
9.  Blue Bloods (CBS), 15.13
10.  Dancing With the Stars (ABC), 14.88
11.   How to Get Away With Murder (ABC), 14.85
12.  Modern Family (ABC), 14.30
13.  Criminal Minds (CBS), 14.28
14.  The Voice-Tuesday (NBC), 14.23
15.  Madam Secretary (CBS), 14.17
16.  The Voice-Monday (NBC), 14.14
17.  Person of Interest (CBS), 13.11
18.  Scandal (ABC), 13.04
19.  NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS), 13.03
20.  Castle (ABC), 12.58
21.  Hawaii Five-0 (CBS), 12.55
22.  The Good Wife (CBS), 12.27
23.  Two and a Half Men (CBS), 11.96
24.  The Odd Couple (CBS), 11.83
25.  The Mentalist (CBS), 11.81

All rankings for programs through May 10; these rankings and the network standings will be updated as additional numbers come in for May 4-20.