×

Most-Watched Television Networks: Ranking 2022’s Winners and Losers

Complete Broadcast, Cable and Pay TV Ratings Ranker for 2022 in Total Viewers and Adults 18-49

ESPN, NBC, Paramount Network, G4
Getty Images

There may come a time when it just doesn’t make sense to rank the broadcast and cable networks anymore. Actually, that time is probably already here, with most viewing now taking place via streaming and other means. And yet, Nielsen’s numbers — which include time shifting and other ways people watch, not just live — are still the best barometer of who’s watching what in the linear world.

And indeed, it’s clear that live sports are still driving linear TV — ESPN is among the few top networks to receive a double-digit boost in 2022. But crime also pays: Oxygen, which NBCUniversal reworked into a true crime network several years ago received a healthy 10% bump this year. And the biggest gainer in 2022 was Reelzchannel, at a whopping 107% (granted, from a low base), thanks to the addition of the show formerly known as “Live P.D.”

RELATED: Top 100 Telecasts of 2022: ‘Yellowstone’ Rules, Oscars Recover, NFL Dominates and Amazon Makes History

Overall, NBC led the year in total viewers (narrowly over CBS) with 5.1 million viewers, and adults 18-49 as well. Other networks in the top 100 experiencing growth included Paramount Network (thank you, “Yellowstone”), Grit, Family Entertainment TV, SundanceTV (another interesting one), IFC (ditto), Magnolia Network (recovering slightly from the moribund DIY network) and yes, Great American Family (leaning in to the holidays). FXX also saw a sizable bump thanks to a new strategy created by the team there to turn the channel (a spinoff of FX) into a destination for adult animation, where shows like “Archer,” “Bob Burgers,” “Cleveland,” “Family Guy,” “Futurama,” “King of the Hill” and “The Simpsons” now all air together.

Tomorrow, Variety will share the ranker of this year’s most-watched primetime telecasts. (Hint: Hope you like football.) But here, Variety recounts who was up and who was down in 2022.

WINNERS

ESPN

Some analysts, including Dan Loeb, have suggested that Disney spin off ESPN in order to pursue other business interests. And like all cable, the future of ESPN is an open question: It’s expensive to operate, and cord cutting continues to shrink its household penetration. But Bob Chapek exhibited no interest in cutting ESPN loose, and it’s even less likely that Bob Iger, back in control, would do so. ESPN remains a powerful brand, and it’s actually one of the few bright spots left in cable. Last year, ESPN recovered from pandemic woes by leaping 11% to an average of 1.6 million viewers in primetime; in 2022, it jumped another 14% to 1.9 million. Sister network ESPN 2 was up 8%. And this comes as other sports channels (Fox Sports 1, NFL Network, TUDN, MLB Network and others) saw drops. ESPN and ESPN 2 are also two of the few networks among adults 18-49 in the top 50 to see gains.

Crime TV
NBCUniversal’s Oxygen network — which has been rebranded “Oxygen True Crime” — saw its primetime viewership improve by 10% this year, thanks to series like the “Snapped” franchise, “Cold Justice,” “Injustice with Nancy Grace,” “Catching a Serial Killer: Sam Little,” “Kim Kardashian: The Justice Project” and “Aaron Hernandez Uncovered.” The network also recently launched as a diginet in markets including Los Angeles, where it is available over the air on as a KNBC subchannel. And then there’s Reelzchannel, which saw its primetime numbers bounce 107% thanks to the little-seen network’s coup in picking up “On Patrol: Live,” a new version of “Live PD” from host Dan Abrams and producers Big Fish. (In a lawsuit, A&E argued that “On Patrol: Live” copied nearly every aspect of “Live PD’s” format and sued for copyright infringement.)

Digi-nets

About the only thing seeing ratings gains in broadcast TV these days are the low-budget diginets — those network running on local TV subchannels. Of course, Ion and Me TV have been doing quite well for years — and aren’t really diginets, since they air as full-blown affiliates or owned TV stations in most markets. But among the diginets seeing growth or at least stability this year were Grit (up 5%), Bounce (flat), Family Entertainment TV (up 14%), Cozi (up 6%), Ion Mystery (formerly Court TV Mystery, up 13%), Laff (up 2%), Dabl (up 28%), Court TV (up 7%) and Cleo TV (up 44%).

LOSERS

G4

Comcast’s sports and esports division had tried to relaunch the video gamer-centric network two years ago, but shut it down again in October. And it’s not hard to see why: G4 was the least-watched of every network that Nielsen measures, averaging a paltry 1,000 in primetime. Its rating in adults 18-49? A zero.

Cable’s major general entertainment networks — with one exception

TNT, TBS and USA were once the titans of cable, rivaling the broadcast networks in scope. But as erosion continues and they downsize, their presence continues to fade. For the first time in years, TNT and TBS both slipped below an average of 1 million viewers in primetime, with TNT down to 965,000 (from 1.09 million) and TBS to 875,000 (from 1.03 million). USA has slipped to 738,000 (from 848,000). Others down include FX (462,000, from 504,000). Paramount Network is the one major channel to buck the trend, thanks, of course, to the halo effect of its “Yellowstone” smash — but even it saw declines in 18-49.

Below are the primetime rankers for broadcast, cable and premium cable networks in 2022, among total viewers (as well as the top 50 list in adults 18-49). Most Nielsen-rated networks can be found here, with the exception of a few channels that are not ad-supported. [For historical record, here are previous year-end network rankers: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.]

THE MOST-WATCHED NETWORKS OF 2022 (BY TOTAL VIEWERS)

RankNETWORKVIEWERS (000)% CHANGE
1.NBC5,148-7%
2.CBS5,144-8%
3.ABC3,867-6%
4.Fox3,233-14%
5.Fox News Channel2,369-1%
6.ESPN1,877+14%
7.Univision1,315-9%
8.MSNBC1,197-22%
9.HGTV1,081-13%
10.Hallmark Channel 1,034-9%
11.Ion1,023-2%
12.TLC971-6%
13.TNT965-12%
14.Telemundo933-10%
15.TBS875-15%
16.History836-10%
17.Discovery Channel821-11%
18.Food Network779-6%
19.INSP778-1%
20.USA Network738-13%
21.CNN735-34%
22.Me TV688-8%
23.Bravo595-16%
24.Lifetime589-15%
25.The CW574-29%
26.Investigation Discovery566-12%
27.TV Land5210%
28.A&E508-10%
29.Hallmark Movie & Mysteries 492-15%
30.Paramount Network491+8%
31.UniMás 489-8%
32. AMC468-8%
33.FX462-9%
34.Grit433+5%
35.WE TV 428-7%
36.Game Show Network361-8%
37.Syfy359-17%
BET 359-2%
39.National Geographic356-16%
40.Travel Channel 336-9%
41.ESPN 2335+8%
42.Oxygen 331+10%
43.Freeform301-32%
44.MTV288-28%
45.Nickelodeon287-14%
46.Animal Planet286-19%
47.Nick at Nite283-21%
48.Fox Sports 1273-7%
49.Comedy Central266-13%
50.Bounce TV2540%
51.Reelzchannel252+107%
52.HBO 2500%
53.FXX246+23%
54.Adult Swim245-37%
55.VH1241-6%
56.Family Entertainment TV240+14%
57.SundanceTV238+11%
58.LMN237-2%
59.E!232-21%
60. IFC223+12%
61.CMT217-10%
62.OWN213-10%
Motor Trend213-1%
64.HLN211-12%
65.NFL Network207-33%
Start TV207-5%
67.Magnolia Network203+13%
68.Cozi202+6%
69.CNBC196-10%
70.BBC America 190-9%
71.Ion Mystery185+13%
72.Science184-22%
Newsmax TV184-2%
74.Disney Junior183-29%
75.Nat Geo Wild181-21%
Cartoon Network181-12%
77.Disney Channel178-25%
78. Heroes and Icons172-10%
79.Nick Jr.169-27%
80.Weather Channel160-14%
81.Tru TV147-25%
82.Laff 146+2%
83.TUDN 135-23%
84.Pop TV128-20%
85.Up117-11%
86.Antenna TV115-19%
87.Estrella TV106-21%
88.TV One104-5%
89.Comet99-1%
90.Cooking Channel98-18%
Smithsonian98-8%
92.Defy TV97n/a
93.MLB Network96-12%
94.Golf Channel94-18%
95. Showtime92-29%
96.Hallmark Drama 90-19%
NBA TV 90+5%
98.FYI87-2%
99.Starz  83+17%
100.Galavisión82-23%
101.FX Movie Channel80-12%
 Charge!80-1%
103.Great American Family79+22%
104.Big Ten Network75+23%
105.Viceland71-14%
106.Nicktoons65-2%
107.Discovery En Español63+11%
 Fox Business Network63+17%
 Newsnation63+37%
110.Dabl59+28%
111.Court TV58+7%
112.Universo57-15%
113.Telexitos56+4%
114.American Heroes55-25%
 Ovation55-18%
MTV 255+4%
117.Starz Encore54-5%
118. Disney XD53-36%
119. Boomerang52-32%
Destination America52-20%
121.RFD-TV50-14%
Tennis Network500%
123.ESPN U 49-11%
124. Azteca47+2%
125.BET Her44+13
126. Teennick43+19%
 True Real43n/a
128.AXS TV42-13%
129.Fox Deportes 41-9%
Logo410%
Story Television 41n/a
132.Discovery Family Channel38-14%
133.TBD TV31-31%
134. Outdoor Channel30n/a
135.Discovery Life Channel28-18%
Cinemax28-3%
137.ESPN Deportes27+4%
138.The Cowboy Channel24+4%
139.Universal Kids23-34%
140. Discovery Familia20-41%
141.Olympic Channel19-21%
Fox Sports 219-10%
143.Baby First TV18-14%
144. Nat Geo Mundo17-6%
145.NBC Sports Network15-95%
CNN En Español150%
147.Galanovelas14n/a
148.Cleo TV13+44%
149.Justice Central11-15%
150.Accuweather9+29%
Sportsman Channel9n/a
152.Fuse8-38%
153.BEIN Sport Español4-33%
NBCLX4-20%
Black News Channel40%
Comedy TV40%
157.BEIN Sport30%
158.Pursuit Channel2-75%
159.G41n/a
Source: Nielsen, NPM (12/27/2021-12/4/2022, Live+7 and 12/5/2022-12/18/2022, Live+SD vs. 12/28/2020-12/5/2021, Live+7 and 12/6/2021-12/19/2021, Live+SD) Mon-Sat 8pm-11pm/Sun 7pm-11pm, ad-supported and premium pay networks. Nat Geo Mundo based on NPM-H. Ranked by 2022 Year-To-Date.

THE 50 TOP-RATED NETWORKS OF 2022 (BY ADULTS 18-49)

RankNETWORK18-49 VIEWERS (000)% CHANGE
1.NBC1,176-13%
2.Fox902-23%
3.ABC864-12%
4.CBS811-22%
5.ESPN702+13%
6.Univision522-8%
7.TNT383-18%
8.Telemundo337-17%
9.TBS299-20%
10.TLC 264-14%
11.Bravo231-21%
12.USA Network224-25%
13.Fox News Channel218-9%
14.Food Network205-22%
15.Unimás198-15%
16.Discovery Channel194-20%
17. HGTV188-22%
18.Ion178-21%
19.FX170-16%
20.Comedy Central153-15%
21.A&E149-14%
22.MTV 146-38%
23.History143-27%
24.Hallmark Channel140-6%
25.FXX139+23%
26.Adult Swim136-40%
Freeform136-30%
28.AMC133-18%
29.The CW128-45%
30.Investigation Discovery128-21%
31.CNN126-35%
Paramount Network126-7%
33.Nick at Nite122-19%
34.Lifetime119-27%
35.BET  114-15%
36. VH1 110-17%
ESPN 2110+8%
38.Nickelodeon103-14%
39.Syfy102-26%
40.WE TV 90-21%
41.E!86-30%
42.MSNBC85-40%
43.TV Land83-11%
44.Fox Sports 179-14%
45.Tru TV76-30%
Cartoon Network76-7%
47.Travel Channel73-20%
48. TUDN69-26%
49.National Geographic67-28%
50.NFL Network64-42%
Source: Nielsen, NPM (12/27/2021-12/4/2022, Live+7 and 12/5/2022-12/18/2022, Live+SD vs. 12/28/2020-12/5/2021, Live+7 and 12/6/2021-12/19/2021, Live+SD) Mon-Sat 8pm-11pm/Sun 7pm-11pm, ad-supported and premium pay networks. Nat Geo Mundo based on NPM-H. Ranked by 2022 Year-To-Date.

VIP+ Analysis: Behind Cable’s Peak TV Decline