Cynopsis Media Presents: The Ratings Top 100 of 2017 – Broadcast, Cable and Syndication

Cynopsis Presents:
The Top 100 of 2017 – Broadcast, Cable and Syndication

By Marc Berman

Unlike years past, when discussing the attributes of any given television season was based solely on the traditional ratings from Nielsen, the benchmark for success is now a far more complicated analysis. Nielsen is still on the forefront, with our traditional top rating results in 2017 for broadcast and syndication, on average, a reflection of Live+7 Day ratings (averaged with the Live+Same Day for the most recent two weeks). Since cable often features multiple airings per week for each show, we based that data on Live+Same Day (translation: no time shifted viewing is factored in).

Broken out via the top 5 in various categories, we feature a varied selection of highlights (including DVR usage, median age, and a charting for Spanish language programs). We exclude sports and specials. And TVision is our source for the Eyes on Screen Attention report, which further demonstrates why positive attention should also be given to traditionally lower-rated series like Whose Line Is It Anyway? on The CW and period drama TURN: Washington Spies on AMC. There is now so much more to consider.

Since the broadcast networks are still highly evaluated for the traditional (September to May) TV season, our findings for broadcast are based on both this season to-date (through December 3), and we include a charting for total viewers and adults 18-49 for 2017 to-date as an additional benchmark. Since June through early September is considerably lower-rated (a.k.a. lower HUT levels), the overall averages for 2017 reflect that.

Cable is based on the bigger picture, January 1 through November 26, while our findings in syndication is an analysis of this season (through Nov. 19). Since the target demo in syndication is adults 25-54, that is what we focus on.

2017: The Immediate Observations

The term Peak TV, which was introduced by FX Networks chief John Landgraf in 2015 to describe the explosion of original content, reached a new zenith in 2017 (thanks in great part to the rise of digital content). As we wait for the final tally, 342 scripted programs via broadcast, cable and streaming services by this past August (up from the 325 shows during the same time frame one year earlier), plus another estimated 79 shows on the streamers by year-end, suggest that the individual series this year will indeed peak at over 500 series. In other words, finding an audience can be more difficult than ever before.

Estimated Number of Scripted Original Series
(Broadcast, Cable and Online)

2013: 349
2014: 389
2015: 421
2016: 455
2017: 500+

Then, of course, there is over-the-top (OTT) consumption, which some consider as an add-on incentive and others believe it will eventually replace consuming content the old-fashioned way…on a linear network.  Included in the world of OTT content consumption is subscription video on demand (SVOD), TV Everywhere, the virtual MVPDs (or digital MVPDs or skinny bundles) and Smart TV. What role OTT will eventually play in the overall television landscape is still a question mark.

Social media, meanwhile, plays an increasingly large role in the way networks evaluate success, which for a network like The CW is the true exhibitor of why superhero-themed scripted hours, albeit low-rated in the traditional ratings, resonate socially.

Here are our findings:
Source: Nielsen Media

CBS has been the most-watched broadcast network for 9 straight years. But as the upcoming platform for Super Bowl LII and the 2018 Winter Olympics, NBC could ultimately end that winning streak this season. Consider NBC a lock for first this season in adults 18-49.


With both The Good Doctor on ABC and Young Sheldon on CBS prominently featured, the concept of an immediate new broadcast network series hit is still very much a possibility. While Young Sheldon deserves accolades for holding more of the audience from lead-in The Big Bang Theory than any other series historically, consistent growth for The Good Doctor out of still relevant Dancing With the Stars is particularly noteworthy.

Then there is the return of NBC’s Will & Grace for season 9 after an 11-year absence, which proves that not every revival is a misstep. If upcoming Roseanne on ABC clicks in midseason, chances of more revivals of former hit series are a given.

With four of the top 5 new shows in total viewers on CBS, the network certainly understands who its core audience is. But one of those four, Wisdom of the Crowd, was cut short perhaps due to growing sexual harassment accusations against series star Jeremy Piven. And Fox, which is in need of the next generation of hit series, has two, care of freshman scripted hours The Orville and The Gifted.

Did You Know?
Three sitcoms historically – I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show and Seinfeld – ended their final seasons top-rated for the season. But The Big Bang Theory, now in season 11, is the first sitcom this long into its run that is also this dominant.

Traditionally, the lower-rated series tend to earn a higher percentage over viewers via time shifting (hence The CW’s critically acclaimed Jane the Virgin perched at No. 1, with a rise of a whopping 150% in total viewers via the DVR). When renewal time comes, Fox, in particular, has another reason to keep The Orville afloat for a second season, while traditional rating losses for ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder, in particular, this season is certainly not evident via the DVR.

Notably impressive in audience lift from the DVR are of the comic book themed dramas, which range from a 57% increase for The CW’s Supernatural to 100% each for Marvel’s Inhuman’s on ABC, The Gifted on Fox and Riverdale on The CW. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which recently returned for season five, is another series dependent on time shifting.

As always, The CW remains at the tail end of the season to-date rankings based on the Nielsen ratings. But, according to the median age, this platform for superhero themed shows and critically acclaimed Friday night one-hour comedies is home to three of the five series with the youngest average ages. In today’s media landscape, youth counts!


TVision measures eyes-on-screen attention to every second of programming and advertising on television. The above data was collected from 7,500 individuals in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Atlanta and Seattle. Once again stressing the importance of data outside of the traditional Nielsen norm, there are other ways to measure success.
Dec. 26, 2016 – November 23, 2017
Both Univision and Telemundo are featured in the top 5 most-watched series. Each Spanish-language network offers a variety of genres. The telenovela format, upgraded and updated, still resonates, along with reality shows, music programs, sports and more.

Source: Nielsen Media Research, primetime. All program data is based on the primary telecast average only.
January 1 – November 26, 2017

Unlike the broadcast networks, where the data is produced is under one specific formula, cable – basic and paid – remains a complicated calculation because of the multiple runs per week for most series (and the magnitude of the number of cable networks).  Two series – AMC’s The Walking Dead and HBO’s Game of Thrones – stand well above the rest, with HBO hoping to capitalize on the upcoming eighth – and final – season of the medieval drama in 2018 with a series of potential spin-offs. The Walking Dead, meanwhile, has spawned two successful series – spin-off Fear the Walking Dead and discussion series The Talking Dead – and remains the most successful scripted drama in basic cable history.

Despite the loss of both Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly, Fox News remains the top-rated cable news network, with recent entry The Ingraham Angle, hosted by Laura Ingraham, the perfect fit. HGTV, in particular, is a lock in the area of lifestyle programming. And Investigation Discovery (ID) is one of a growing number of outlets to go to all-in for true crime.

While not visible on any of the following charts, the virtual sellout at Madison Square Garden in New York City for the recent Impractical Jokers Tour makes this comical reality series the key to the future of truTV. Corporate sibling TBS, meanwhile, continues to stress the value of social media with the creation of interactive The HUB at the recent Comedy Festival in New York City. All together now…social also matters.




Source: Nielsen Media Research, total day September 25 – November 17, 2017
The rich stay rich, so to speak, in syndication, with the top 5 rated first-run series based on both households and adults 25-54 a combination of all veteran series. Wheel of Fortune from CBS Television Distribution, in fact, is celebrating 35 years in syndication. The Big Bang Theory from Warner Bros., meanwhile, is a lock at No. 1 in off-network, but particularly respectable among the newbie sitcoms in off-net this season is The Goldbergs from Sony Pictures Television at No. 4 in both surveyed categories.

Also worthy of bragging rights is Dateline Weekly from NBCUniversal, the series of repackaged episodes from the veteran NBC primetime edition.

Did You Know?

Despite the rise of OTT and time shifting, over 90% of the audience in daytime still watches most of the available syndicated shows live.

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