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NBC Nabs Primetime Total Viewers Lead for First Time Since 2001-2002 Season

With a big assist from the Super Bowl, the Winter Olympics and “This Is Us,” NBC has taken the lead in primetime total viewers for the first time in almost two decades.

For the 2017-18 season to date through 20 weeks, NBC is on top with an average of 9.56 million viewers, nosing past CBS’ average of 9.38 million, according to Nielsen. NBC is up 7% in total viewers compared to the same point in the 2016-17 season. This marks the first time the Peacock has topped the Big Four in total viewers at any point during the regular September-May TV season since the 2001-02 campaign.

This month’s Super Bowl delivered a big boost and last week’s kickoff of the Winter Olympics put NBC over the top. But the milestone also reflects the deeper bench of successful regular series that is bolstering NBC. The last time NBC carried a Super Bowl and Olympics in the same season (in the 2011-12 broadcast year), it ultimately finished No. 2 in viewers for that 52-week season.

When sports-related programming is excluded, NBC trails CBS by 1.9 million viewers. That’s still the closest NBC has come to catching CBS in the measure since the 2002-03 season.

There is no doubt that broadcast TV ratings overall are declining at a steady clip as viewers embrace streaming and VOD platforms and the greater diversity of programming across linear and digital platforms. NBC’s ability to move the needle with a combo of sports events and regular series is notable against the undertow of a changing TV landscape.

“Only five years ago we were still fourth place in total viewers after having regained the 18-49 demo crown in 2014, a level we’ve maintained for the past four full seasons,” said NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt. “This is an achievement that reflects NBC’s strength as a true broadcaster, delivering mega-events like Sunday Night Football, the Super Bowl and Olympics, along with the some of the highest-rated scripted and unscripted programming on television such as ‘This Is Us,’ ‘Will & Grace,’ ‘The Voice,’ ‘America’s Got Talent.’ “

NBC’s fortunes surely have received a substantial boost from “This Is Us,” broadcast TV’s No. 1 drama. The sophomore series is up 23% in total viewers over the comparable point in its first season thanks in large part to the special episode that aired after the Super Bowl, which grabbed some 27 million viewers. Even without the Super Bowl episode, “This Is Us” to date is up 13% in total viewers (16.4 million) over the same point in its first season, and up 11% in adults 18-49 (5.0/18), according to Nielsen’s live-plus-7 ratings.

NBC also has the No. 1 unscripted series, “The Voice,” and the successful launch of “Ellen’s Game of Games” helped pad the viewership bump.

From Sept. 25-Feb. 11, the Big Four season to date averages are:

Total Viewers

NBC: 9.569 million

CBS: 9.385 million

ABC: 5.911 million

Fox: 5.892 million

Adult 18-49 Rating

NBC: 2.47

Fox: 1.77

CBS: 1.66

ABC: 1.45

(Pictured: “This Is Us”)

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