Only 13 of the Top 130 Shows on Traditional TV Gained Viewers for 2019-2020 Season

remote pointing at tv2019-2020 was a good year for television sports, but almost every other program suffered. 

Taking a look at the latest Nielsen numbers, out of the top 133 primetime shows in the prior year, all but 13 lost viewership this time around – and three of the winners were sports. And in the all-important 18-49 demographic, only 11 gained ground including the three sports programs.

Before we start diving into numbers, it’s important to note that this data comes from Sept. 23, 2019, to May 20, 2020. So the ratings do include several months into “stay at home” orders when TV viewership skyrocketed. Nielsen did include “time shifted” viewing (DVR) but didn’t include digital platform viewing.  

Like the year before, Sunday Night Football on NBC was the top prime time program this year. And even though it stayed even from last year’s numbers, it still took the top spot by far. NCIS was the second most popular show, but it was down 3%. Thursday Night Football on Fox in third place gained 4%, but the rest of the top 10 finds shows like Blue Bloods (-7%), This is Us (-16%), Young Sheldon (-22%), FBI (-1%), and Chicago Med (-.4%) all posting losses. 

Chicago Fire and Chicago PD were the only other gainers from the top 10, and they both posted modest increases of .3% and .8% respectively.

Perhaps most telling though? Looking at the top 10 for the 18-49 age group. From that subset, the top has The Masked Singer, This is Us, The Bachelor, Grey’s Anatomy, and Survivor all seeing substantial losses (23% for This is Us and 20% for Grey’s Anatomy).

So what does this tell us? People are watching big-time TV less pretty much all across the board. And when you break out just the younger demographic, it’s even more pronounced. Not that we need another study to prove this point, but traditional TV is struggling, especially for the 18-49 ages. 

Now, there is a caveat to consider: almost 40 shows that are in the top 130 for this year were new, meaning they had no data from the year before so they couldn’t possibly gain. That does make up over 25% of the list. But what’s important here is that out of the top 20 shows, only two didn’t have prior data and almost everyone still lost viewers. 

Top 10 shows that gained viewership or stayed even from 2018-2019 to 2019-2020 (18-49) with their overall rank and percentage gain:

#1: Sunday Night Football (even) 

#2: Thursday Night Football (2.3%)

#5: The Bachelor (even)

#15: American Idol (13.3%)

#75: Fox College Football (50%)

#106: Arrow (even)

#113: Dateline Saturday Mystery (even)

#122: All American (even)

#137: Whose Line Is It Anyway (even)

#131: Dynasty (even)

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