The most popular TV shows of 2020 that weren’t on Netflix or HBO

Entertainment

  • NBC and CBS dominated Nielsen’s list of the most-watched TV shows of 2020.
  • Not surprisingly, sports programs were exceedingly popular with NFL Thursday Night Football being the most-watch show of the year.

Nielsen on Monday released its list of the most-watched TV shows of 2020, and if the list below looks strange, you’re not alone. Keep in mind that Nielsen only measures the popularity of shows that air on broadcast TV and cable, which is to say a lot of programs on NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX.

In other words, you’re not going to see shows like Netflix’s Ozark or FX’s Dave listed here. Still, the list is interesting if only as a reminder that there are some decent shows outside of the Netflix/Hulu/HBO bubble.


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The list of most-watched broadcast shows of 2020 is as follows:

  1. NBC Sunday Night Football – NBC
  2. NCIS – CBS
  3. FBI – CBS
  4. Thursday Night Football – FOX
  5. Blue Bloods – CBS
  6. Chicago Fire – NBC
  7. Chicago PD – NBC
  8. Young Sheldon CBS
  9. Chicago Med – NBC
  10. This Is Us – NBC

Interestingly, the list becomes almost entirely sports-centric when evaluating the top single telecasts of the year. This, of course, isn’t all that surprising given the unrivaled popularity of the Super Bowl, and to a slightly lesser extent, the NFL Playoffs.

  1. Super BOWL LIV – FOX
  2. Super Bowl Post Game – FOX
  3. NFC Championship – FOX
  4. NFC Playoff/Sunday January 12 – FOX
  5. AFC Wildcard Playoff – CBC
  6. AFC Divisional Playoff – CBS
  7. The Masked Singer – FOX
  8. CFP Championship
  9. FOX NFC Championship Postgame – FOX
  10. The Oscars – ABC

With respect to the top time-shifted programs of 2020, which is to say shows people recorded on their DVRs, the list reads as follows:

  1. Yellowstone – Paramount
  2. Emergence – ABC
  3. Stumptown – ABC
  4. Manifest – NBC
  5. The Resident – FOX
  6. New Amsterdam – NBC
  7. Walking Dead – AMC
  8. Will & Grace – NBC
  9. Million Little Things – ABC
  10. Good Girls – NBC

Nielsen’s press release reads in part:

While much of the shifting behavior involves streaming on-demand video, consumers continue to spend the lion’s share of their TV time with live and time-shifted programming. In fact, second-quarter 2020 live and time-shifted TV consumption among people 18 and older increased by an average of 4 minutes per day (to 4 hours: 8 minutes) from the prior year. That dwarfs the 1 hour and 14 minutes we spend with our TV-connected devices each day.

Given the breadth of media options available, there likely won’t be a time when there’s nothing for consumers to watch or engage with. And the growing depth of available content continues to inspire consumers to spend more time with media each day. In the second quarter of this year, consumers 18 and older spent just shy of 6 hours each day with video, an increase of 35 minutes from the prior-year period. In order to make the most of that time spent, networks and advertisers need to stay informed about where the eyeballs are as well as when they’re watching.

In light of the above, and no matter how popular some shows on broadcast TV are, the simple reality is that the best TV on the air today is on streaming services like Netflix.

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