UPDATE: Thursday’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals on ABC averaged a big 6.9 rating in adults 18-49 and 17.77 million viewers overall, according to final same-night Nielsen national estimates. The demo score matches 2002 as the top-rated for the opening game of the Finals since 2004. In total viewers, it’s the largest audience in the 14 years since the Philadelphia 76ers-Los Angeles Lakers series on NBC drew 18.6 million viewers — so it’s the largest since ABC began airing the Finals in 2003.
An overtime thriller in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday produced the top overnight rating for the event in 14 years, propelling ABC to a dominant primetime victory for the night.
Total-viewer estimates won’t be available until later today, but the Golden State Warriors’ 108-100 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers generated a 12.9 overnight household rating, peaking with a 15.6 rating from 11:30-11:45 p.m. ET. This is up 24% over last year’s opener between Miami and San Antonio (10.4), which translated into a 6.0 rating in adults 18-49 and 14.85 million viewers overall.
ABC said this was the highest Game 1 overnight since it started airing the NBA Finals in 2003. Two years earlier, the series between the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers on NBC delivered a higher rating and ended up with a total-viewer average of 18.58 million — the highest for any Game 1 in the post-Michael Jordan era.
In the 13 years that ABC has aired the NBA Finals, the most-watched Game 1 was in 2012 between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder (16.195), but last night’s should easily eclipse that.
Elsewhere in primetime on Thursday, NBC saw poor numbers for its drama tandem of “Aquarius” (0.7/2 in 18-49, 3.9 million viewers overall in its second week) and “Hannibal” (0.7/2 in 18-49, 2.6 million viewers overall for its season premiere). The former had bowed with a 1.1 rating last week, and the latter opened last season with the same 1.1 rating (on a Friday in February). “Hannibal” has always been a big gainer in DVR playback, and NBC seemed to be encouraging such viewing by scheduling its season premiere opposite the NBA Finals.
The Peacock did considerably better in the night’s opening hour with “Dateline” (1.1/4 in 18-49, 6.4 million viewers overall), with the newsmagazine drawing its largest overall audience in nine weeks.
Fox’s dramas “Bones” (1.1/4 in 18-49, 5.1 million viewers overall) and “Wayward Pines” (1.1/4 in 18-49, 4.2 million viewers overall) held up better, each down a tick from last week; “Wayward” was up about 5% week to week in total viewers. CBS’ encore of “The Big Bang Theory” was Thursday’s top-rated series (1.4/6 in 18-49, 7.4 million viewers overall).