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TV Ratings: CBS Commands the Same Viewership as 16 Years Ago — With a Catch

Variety logo Variety 1/6/2017 Oriana Schwindt

Thirty-five days. That’s how long it takes for broadcast networks to gather the kind of crowds that they used to grab in a single night.

Case in point: 16 years ago, “Everybody Loves Raymond” was drawing 20.81 million people to CBS on the night it aired. In the fall of 2016, “The Big Bang Theory” was pulling in 22.23 million people — with 35 days of viewing counted, across linear TV, DVR, VOD, and streaming outlets.

CBS has released a batch of data, cobbled together from Nielsen, comScore/Rentrak, and its own internal streaming figures, that show that the network is drawing slightly more viewers for entertainment programs in 2016 than it was in the 2000-01 season (12.62 million on average, versus 12.61 million).

The data underscores the impact of time-shifting and multiplatform viewing options on old-fashioned TV viewing. And it demonstrates how much harder it has become for networks to get massive amounts of people to watch one thing at the same time. In 2000, cable was just beginning to make noise in the scripted drama space; Netflix had just begun its life as a mail-rental DVD company; Hulu was no more than a gleam in Jason Kilar’s eye.

But CBS’ data also illuminates another salient point for broadcasters in the big-tent programming business. The eyeballs are still there for successful programs. It just takes a lot longer to get them to the screen.

The numbers tell the tale. Here is CBS’ 2016-17 and 2000-01 comparison chart:

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