For each of the last four seasons, NBC’s Sunday Night Football, NCIS on CBS and The Big Bang Theory on CBS made up the Nielsen Top 3 in total viewers — which is looking to be the case again this season.
Football ranked #1 for four of the last five seasons with NCIS taking the top spot for the 2012-2013 season — leaving Big Bang as the only one of the three never to have topped the rankings.
But that could change this season.
Through 12/4, Sunday Night Football is down 21% year-over-year due to a contentious election cycle, increased interest in the Cubs-fueled baseball playoffs, a highly rated World Series driven by those same Cubs and some potential viewer fatigue with Thursday Night football. Still, there are three games left in the regular season and ratings could perk up as we head toward the postseason.
On 12/11, the Dallas Cowboys face the New York Giants. This will be the third SNF appearance of the season for the Cowboys — who first faced the Bears during premiere week on 9/25 (two weeks after the start of the football season) and came in 9% below the viewership average to that date. Their SNF second appearance, against on the Philadelphia Eagles on 10/30, had the good fortune of going up against a highly-rated Game 5 of the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, so we won’t knock the below average viewership for that week. This will be the second appearance for the Giants, whose 10/9 matchup against the Green Bay Packers was a season low to that date.
On 12/18, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers face the Dallas Cowboys — the fourth SNF appearance for the Cowboys, but the first for the Buccaneers. If the matchup itself doesn’t ignite ratings, the lead-up to the postseason might.
And on 12/25, the Denver Broncos once again face the Kansas City Chiefs. Their previous matchup on 11/27 was a 9-week high save for the above-average Seahawks/Patriots game on 11/13. Given the fact that the game falls on Christmas night and is the last SNF game of the season, this could be season high.
But will these three games be enough to mitigate the overall 20% ratings shortfall?
Not likely. So there’s an opening for The Big Bang Theory, with a season-to-date average of 19.82 L+7 viewers for its TENTH season, to take over the top spot from Sunday Night Football after three consecutive seasons at #1.
What of NCIS, though? In its FOURTEENTH season, the venerable series is averaging 18.77 million L+7 viewers — which would put it ahead of Sunday Night Football for the #2 position and leave it battling CBS’s Bull, with an average of 17.32 million L+7 viewers, for the #3 position.
Therefore, my prediction for the end of the season as it stands right now is as follows:
#1 – The Big Bang Theory, CBS
#2 – NCIS, CBS
#3 – Sunday Night Football, NBC
#4 – Bull, CBS