The network, boasting the Super Bowl and the Olympics this season, had been posting a decisive lead in the key demo.
For the first time since 2002, NBC actually ranks as the most-watched network on TV — not just the highest-rated, a title its again been assured since the fall. Most-watched status has belonged to CBS for the last 15 seasons — with the notable exception of 2007-08, when an American Idol-driven and Super Bowl-bolstered Fox led a year fatigued by the infamous WGA strike. (CBS ranked No. 2 that year.)
NBC’s current advantage among total viewers is slim, besting CBS with an average 9.57 million viewers in primetime to 9.39 million in most-current available date from Nielsen. But that tiny lift, a lead of barely 2 percent, stands to get bigger as the network continues its thus-far impressive coverage of the Winter Games in PyeongChang through Feb. 25.
Will it be enough to hold onto No. 1 until the end of the season? That remains to be seen and will greatly depend on respective performances between March and May. After all, the boon of the Super Bowl has already been factored in — as has NBC’s heaviest schedule hitter, Sunday Night Football.
NBC’s status in the key demo, on the other hand, is not in any doubt. NBC holds a daunting 39 percent percent lead among its closest competition among adults 18-49. The network is averaging a 2.47 rating among adults 18-49 through Feb. 11, an improvement of a scant 2 percent from the same period last year even with the Super Bowl. The rest of the Big Four are all quite a ways down the totem, and have non-incrimental losses, with Fox (1.77), CBS (1.66) and ABC (1.45) all clustered relatively close together.
The last time NBC ranked as the most-watched network in America, Friends was still at the height of its popularity — averaging 24.5 million weekly viewers for the network. ER, no slouch, still pulled 22.1 million viewers. And The West Wing, critical darling of the day, was enjoying the biggest season of its tenure with and average 17.2 million viewers.
Current NBC flagship This Is Us averages 16.6 million viewers an episiode with live-plus-seven lifts.
Season-to-Date Averages (and 2016-17 comparisons)
1. NBC— 9.569 million (up 7 percent)
2. CBS— 9.385 million (down 8 percent)
3. ABC— 5.911 million (down 7 percent)
4. Fox— 5.892 million (down 19 percent)
Adult 18-49 Rating
1. NBC — 2.47 (up 2 percent)
2. Fox— 1.77 (down 24 percent)
3. CBS — 1.66 (down 15 percent)
4. ABC — 1.45 (down 12 percent)