CBS Wins 2015-16 Season in Young Adults, Other Key Ratings Categories

NBC Delivers the Strongest Rookie Class, Led by 'Blindspot'

Ratings: CBS Wins Season in Key Demos, Total Viewers
Courtesy of CBS

CBS, riding television’s top-rated comedy, most-watched drama and overall most consistent lineup, has finished on top in key demos for the 2016-17 season while also continuing its unprecedented run as America’s most-watched network.

With three nights to be counted, CBS was poised to win the September-May season in adults 18-49 for just the second time in the past 24 years, according to Nielsen. (The net, which aired the Super Bowl this season, won three years ago as well with the big game, but otherwise hasn’t scaled the top of Demo Mountain since it aired the Winter Olympics in 1991-92).

CBS and NBC would have finished in a virtual 18-49 tie without the Super Bowl in the mix. The Eye took the lead with the Feb. 7 game and won more weeks down the stretch than the Peacock to secure the bragging-rights victory.

CBS also will prevail in its core adults 25-54 demo for the ninth time in the last 13 years, leading NBC by 15% (3.1 to 2.7). And in total viewers, the Eye won by a big 35% margin (10.9 million vs. 8.1 million) for a record-setting eighth consecutive victory and its 13th win in the last 14 years. (This was NBC’s most-watched season without a Super Bowl or Olympics in nine years.)

It was a challenging season overall for the broadcasters, as only a few new shows could be considered hits and the sheer number of programs across the dial vying for viewers’ attention continues to grow. The networks’ viewership, meanwhile, is increasingly going un-counted in traditional Nielsen metrics while the ratings company struggles to keep up with tracking online and mobile viewing.

Overall, the cumulative five-net average in adults 18-49 (8.9) was down 7% from last year (9.6) to another record low, according to Nielsen estimates through Sunday. They were also down a collective 9% in total viewers (33.6 million vs. 36.8 million).

Fox’s “Empire” followed up its blockbuster first season with a strong sophomore campaign. Though it wasn’t able to maintain its ridiculously high rookie numbers, it finished as the No. 1 broadcast entertainment season in adults 18-49 (6.7 average in Live+7).

NBC’s “NFL Sunday Night Football” was No. 1 overall among broadcast programs in both adults 18-49 (7.5 rating) and total viewers (21.4 million). The program’s overall audience was the highest for a primetime NFL package in 19 years.

Among the season’s dozen top newcomers in adults 18-49, four of them won’t be back on the networks next season: Fox’s “The X-Files” (an update on the long-running series), CBS’ “Supergirl” (which is flying to CW), NBC’s “Heroes Reborn” (an event series based on the network’s 2006-2010 drama) and CBS’ “Limitless” (deemed not strong enough to return).

NBC had the most productive first-year class, claiming the season’s top two new dramas in adults 18-49 — “Blindspot” and “Chicago Med” — as well as the highest-rated alternative newcomer in “Little Big Shots,” with the Steve Harvey-hosted program standing as the most-watched new series on any network. The Peacock also had the season’s No. 2 new comedy in “Superstore.”

Looking at some of the network highlights, CBS could claim the No. 1 comedy series in “The Big Bang Theory,” which has now been on top for five straight seasons in 18-49 and six straight in total viewers; in fact, the Eye has had the most-watched laffer for 12 straight seasons. “Big Bang” was also the most-watched scripted program on any network.

NCIS” remained the most-watched drama for a seventh consecutive season, and “Life in Pieces” was the No. 1 new comedy across the board. And overall, CBS was the most-watched network on all television for all seven nights of the week.

NBC again won the season in adults 18-49 on Sunday with football and on Monday and Tuesday with “The Voice.” It also closed the gap on its ABC and CBS competition on Wednesday, while growing 12% on Thursdays to its highest average in four years.

In the Monday-through-Friday 10:30 p.m. lead-in to local news in the key news demo of adults 25-54, NBC ranked No. 1 and matched its year-ago rating while ABC and CBS were down by double-digits.

It was another good NBC year for specials, with “The Wiz Live” delivering the network’s second best Thursday (excluding sports) since the “ER” finale; “Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors,” television’s most-watched movie in seven years (Live+7); and “Adele Live in New York City,” the top-rated music special on any network in 11 years (Live+7).

Aside from “Empire,” Fox’s best story from the season was the emergence of “Lucifer,” which tied with ABC’s “Quantico” as the season’s No. 3 new series in adults 18-49 (Live+7). It also got a nice winter boost from its revival of “The X-Files,” while “American Idol” remained fairly potent in its final season.

ABC saw some of its 9 p.m. tentpoles like “Modern Family” and “Scandal” soften this season, and the network overall saw the biggest declines among the broadcasters. Still, the network could claim seven of the top 20 broadcast entertainment series, including “Grey’s Anatomy” in its 12th season and newcomer “Quantico.”

The Alphabet also is neck and neck with CBS for the 18-49 lead among all networks in non-sports averages, and is the outright No. 1 among non-sports 18-49 averages in homes with incomes of $100,000 or more.

CW was steady vs. last year in adults 18-49 and down a little in both total viewers and its target demo of adults 18-34. “The Flash” remained the network’s top program, while “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” was a nice midseason addition and added to the net’s superhero ranks. Keeping CW from having a better year was a soft performance on Monday with its critically acclaimed combo of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “Jane the Virgin.”

The gap closed among the Spanish-language networks as longtime leader Univision had a rough year, down more than 25% in both adults 18-49 and total viewers. Still, it remained ahead of rival Telemundo, which held even in the demo and was up a smidge in total viewers.


(Most current for Sept. 21, 2015-May 22, 2016)

Adults 18-49 rating/share (difference vs. last year)
CBS …………….. 2.3/8 (Even)
NBC …………….. 2.1/7 (Down 12%)
Fox ……………..  1.9/6 (Even)
ABC …………….  1.8/6 (Down 18%)
CW ……………..  0.8/3 (Even)
UNI …………….  0.8/3 (Down 27%)
TEL …………….  0.6/2 (Even)

Total Viewers (in millions)
CBS …………….. 10.91 (Down 2%)
NBC ……………..  8.11 (Down 5%)
ABC ……………..  6.82 (Down 14%)
Fox ………………  5.78 (Even)
UNI ………………  2.06 (Down 28%)
CW ………………  1.99  (Down 7%)
TEL ………………  1.43  (Up 1%)

Note: CBS aired the Super Bowl this season; NBC last season


(Live +7 through May 8, 2016; original episodes)

Adults 18-49 rating
1.  Sunday Night Football (NBC), 7.5
2.  Empire (Fox), 6.7
3.  The Big Bang Theory (CBS), 5.9
4.  Thursday Night Football (CBS)*, 5.7
5.  The X-Files (Fox), 4.8
6.  Modern Family (ABC), 4.5
7.  Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), 3.8
8.  The Voice-Monday (NBC), 3.6
9.  Blindspot (NBC), 3.5
9.  How to Get Away With Murder (ABC), 3.5
9.  Scandal (ABC), 3.5
12.  The Voice-Tuesday (NBC), 3.4
13.  NCIS (CBS), 3.1
14.  American Idol-Wednesday (Fox), 3.0
14.  The Bachelor (ABC), 3.0
14.  Criminal Minds (CBS), 3.0
14.  The Goldbergs (ABC), 3.0
18.  Black-ish (ABC), 2.9
18.  Chicago Fire (NBC), 2.9
20.  American Idol-Thursday (Fox), 2.8
20.  The Blacklist (NBC), 2.8
20.  Law & Order: SVU (NBC), 2.8
20.  Scorpion (CBS), 2.8
20.  Survivor (CBS), 2.8
24.  Chicago PD (NBC), 2.7
24.  Life in Pieces (CBS), 2.7
26.  Lucifer (Fox), 2.6
26.  The Middle (ABC), 2.6
28.  Chicago Med (NBC), 2.5
28.  Gotham (Fox), 2.5
28.  NCIS: New Orleans (CBS), 2.5
28.  Supergirl (CBS), 2.5
32.  Limitless (CBS), 2.4
32.  Little Big Shots (NBC), 2.4
34.  Family Guy (Fox), 2.3
34.  Mom (CBS), 2.3
34.  Once Upon a Time (ABC), 2.3
34.  Shades of Blue (NBC), 2.3
34.  2 Broke Girls (CBS), 2.3
39.  Dancing With the Stars (ABC), 2.2
39.  The Flash (CW), 2.2
39.  Heroes Reborn (NBC), 2.2
39.  Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (ABC), 2.2
39.  The Simpsons (Fox), 2.2
44.  Mike & Molly (CBS), 2.1
44.  NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS), 2.1
44.  Shark Tank (ABC), 2.1
44.  Superstore (NBC), 2.1
48.  Blue Bloods (CBS), 2.0
48.  Castle (ABC), 2.0
48.  Code Black (CBS), 2.0
48.  Fresh Off the Boat (ABC), 2.0
48.  Scream Queens (Fox), 2.0

Total Viewers (in millions)
1.  Sunday Night Football (NBC), 21.39
2.  The Big Bang Theory (CBS), 20.61
3.  NCIS (CBS), 20.47
4.  Thursday Night Football (CBS)*, 17.12
5.  Empire (Fox), 16.45
6.  NCIS: New Orleans (CBS), 16.12
7.  Blue Bloods (CBS), 14.55
8.  The Voice-Monday (NBC), 13.79
9.  Dancing With the Stars (ABC), 13.71
10.  The X-Files (Fox), 13.60
11.  The Voice-Tuesday (NBC), 13.52
12.  Scorpion (CBS), 13.27
13.  Little Big Shots (NBC), 13.04
14.  Chicago Med (NBC), 12.76
15.  60 Minutes (CBS), 12.49
16.  Madam Secretary (CBS), 12.39
17.  Modern Family (ABC), 12.29
18.  NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS), 12.13
19.  Blindspot (NBC), 12.00
20.  Law & Order: SVU (NBC), 11.72
21.  The Blacklist (NBC), 11.63
22.  Chicago Fire (NBC), 11.62
23.  American Idol-Wednesday (Fox), 11.52
24.  Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), 11.50
25.  Survivor (CBS), 11.17
26.  American Idol-Thursday (Fox), 11.13
27.  Scandal (ABC), 10.88
28.  The Good Wife (CBS), 10.85
29.  Chicago Med (NBC), 10.76
30.  Life in Pieces (CBS), 10.53
31.  Chicago PD (NBC), 10.45
32.  Limitless (CBS), 10.28
33.  How to Get Away With Murder (ABC), 10.26
34.  Code Black (CBS), 10.18
35.  Person of Interest (CBS), 10.11
36.  Supergirl (CBS), 10.03
37.  Law & Order: SVU (NBC), 10.00
38.  Castle (ABC), 9.89
38.  Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (CBS), 9.89
40.  Shades of Blue (NBC), 9.87
41.  Mom (CBS), 9.80
42.  The Bachelor (ABC), 9.53
43.  The Middle (ABC), 9.24
44.  Elementary (CBS), 9.14
45.  Angel From Hell (CBS), 9.04
46.  The Odd Couple (CBS), 8.89
47.  The Mysteries of Laura (NBC), 8.77
48.  The Goldbergs (ABC), 8.73
49.  Mike & Molly (CBS), 8.63
50.  Last Man Standing (ABC), 8.57

Source: Nielsen
(*CBS games include simulcast on NFL Network)