When I thought NBC would fail

Yes, it’s fun to be wrong on the internet. Because, the internet never forgets. When I said in 2013 that NBC was on the verge of collapsing, I may have been right. But when I asked if they would be the first broadcast network to collapse, and if that collapse would be soon that turned out to be dead wrong.

In fact, NBC had a pretty strong showing this year in the top 10 rated shows, according to Deadline Hollywood. Take a look:

RANK PROGRAM NETWORK RATING
1 NFL Sunday Night Football NBC 6.2
2 This Is Us NBC 5.4
3 Roseanne ABC 5.0
4 NFL Thursday Night Football (CBS+NFLN) CBS 4.5
5 The Big Bang Theory CBS 4.4
6 NFL Sunday Night Football Pre-Kickoff NBC 4.3
7 NFL Thursday Night Football (NBC+NFLN) NBC 4.0
8 The OT Fox 3.8
9 The Good Doctor ABC 3.4
10 Young Sheldon CBS 3.3

With four programs in the top ten, NBC actually won the ratings race. It gets a little more interesting if you only look at non-sports programming:

RANK PROGRAM NETWORK RATING
1 This Is Us NBC 5.4
2 Roseanne ABC 5.0
3 The Big Bang Theory CBS 4.4
4 The Good Doctor ABC 3.4
5 Young Sheldon CBS 3.3
6 Grey’s Anatomy ABC 3.2
7 9-1-1 Fox 3.0
8 Will & Grace NBC 2.8
9 Empire Fox 2.6
10 The Voice NBC 2.5

NBC looks like quite a winner here as well, with This is Us delivering a solid ratings win. Even though its other two hits are lower on the list, NBC looks like a force to be reckoned with. They’re back, in a big way.

To be fair, NBC was a pioneer.

Just looking at the last five years, TV ratings are down 29% overall. The top rated program today would have been a distant third in 2013 and the number ten rated program today wouldn’t have cracked the top 50 back in 2013. (Here’s the full list.) So if NBC’s ratings were dropping like a stone, they were just a little ahead of the curve.

In broadcasting as well as life, it’s all about timing, and NBC’s timing turns out to have been pretty good. By facing its demons head on in the last five years, NBC was forced to find a hit that worked for them and their whole lineup has benefited.

Where have all the ratings gone?

I think everyone knows. Streaming TV has surged since 2013, because more and more people are capable of doing it. That has left a shrinking slice of time for people to watch traditional live TV. That’s not a bad thing, is it?

Another factor is that more people are using antennas than were using them back in 2013 and those people have access to dozens of free channels that you’ll never see on cable or satellite.

There’s no evidence that people are spending any less time in front of screens, but they’re spending it in different ways. As I said, that’s not a bad thing.

What’s in store for NBC now?

NBC is the top of a (much smaller) heap at the moment and I sincerely hope they manage to do a better job of planning than they did in the 1990s. From the mid-1980s until the early 2000s, NBC was an entertainment powerhouse with a string of hits that just kept coming… until they didn’t. NBC made the costly error of paying so much for its mid-90s halo products, ER and Friends, that they had no money to develop new series. As the decade wore on, NBC produced a string of forgettable flops and when those two halo shows signed off, the slump began.

Let’s hope that NBC has better plans in store. As part of the massive Comcast family they have options they didn’t have back then, and hopefully that means they can keep looking forward to providing winning entertainment in the future, no matter what screen it’s on.