What did we watch on good ol’ fashioned linear TV in 2022? Sports — and more specifically, football. No surprise, an average of nearly 100 million viewers watched the Los Angeles Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals to win Super Bowl LVI in February, up from last year’s Big Game (92.9 million).
Variety’s annual list of the year’s 100 most-watched primetime telecasts found that 66 slots went to sports — broken down by 40 NFL games, six each for NBA Finals and the MLB World Series; six for the Winter Olympics; three for the College Football championships; and two for the NCAA Basketball March Madness.
That doesn’t leave much room for entertainment telecasts — but the good news for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is that the Oscars came roaring back to this year’s chart. The Oscars regained its longtime title as the year’s most-watched entertainment telecast, at 17.6 million viewers, a year after it didn’t even make the top 100 in 2021. (The Oscars also managed to regain that distinction since NBC opted not to air an entertainment telecast after the Super Bowl, but instead returned to the Winter Olympics that night.)
In an era where awards shows are challenged, it’s heartening to see two make the chart, as the Grammys also landed in the top 100 — at No. 97, with 10.2 million viewers in April.
But those are specials. When it comes to episodic scripted TV, only 24 episodes make it to the list of the year’s most-watched primetime telecasts. Leading the pack: “Yellowstone,” and its Season 4 finale on January 2, 2022. That episode, “Grass on the Streets and Weeds on the Rooftops,” averaged 13.1 million viewers. That makes it the most-watched episode of any regularly scheduled entertainment series in 2022, broadcast or cable.
“Yellowstone” also boast the second-most watched episode of the year, the Season 5 premiere on November 13. “Yellowstone” landed six episodes on the year-end telecast ranker, while CBS’ “NCIS” led with nine episodes total. Other series making the cut included CBS’ “FBI” (seven), and one each for NBC’s “Chicago Hope” and CBS’ “NCIS Hawai’i.”
Also having a good year: CBS newsmagazine stalwart “60 Minutes,” now in its 55th season. The program scored eight slots in the top 100. No sitcoms or reality shows made the cut, nor did any specials this year besides the two awards shows.
Meanwhile, here’s how history was made this year: For the first time ever in this linear primetime chart, a streamer made it in. That’s right: Amazon Prime Video is on the top telecasts chart this year thanks to NFL Thursday Night Football, which is measured by Nielsen — yes the same panel measurement used for all national TV ratings. Thanks to watermarks/tags included in the content and picked up by Nielsen encoders, they are able to measure people watching on Prime Video wherever its available (smart TVs, web, mobile, etc). It also includes viewing from the two local stations in the markets of the two teams playing each week. (Those NFL cable games are measured the same way, with the local outlets included).
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Amazon Prime Video landed four Thursday Night Football telecasts in the top 100. Among all outlets, CBS once again led this year’s total viewer telecast ranker with 29 programs (up from 39 last year), followed by NBC with 26 (vs. 35 last year), then ABC (13), Fox (12), ESPN (9), Paramount Network (6), Amazon (4) and TBS (1).
Here are some of the winners of 2022:
The Oscars: Consider this a bit of an asterisk. The Academy Awards viewership is still a fraction of what it once was, but after a 2021 disaster — in which it didn’t even make the list of the year’s 100 most-watched telecasts, with a paltry 10.7 million viewers — it was once again the year’s most-watched entertainment telecast in 2022. Credit the slap (or hosts Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes) but it recovered with 17.6 million viewers this year, making it the only non-sports program in the top 25.
“Yellowstone”: The Paramount Network juggernaut is still on a tear. Kevin Costner & Co. have beat out every broadcast show on television, clocking in the most-watched non-sports and non-Oscars telecast of the year: The Season 4 finale of “Yellowstone” on Jan. 2, which averaged 13.1 million viewers. The show holds down five of the top 10 entertainment slots in total viewers — and five of the top 10 slots in 18-49 as well.
Fox reality: Fox’s scheduling team has figured out how to hold on to huge sports lead-ins: Put accessible, easy-to-watch reality fare behind them. In adults 18-49, the biggest series telecast of the year was an episode of Fox’s new Gordon Ramsay series “Next Level Chef,” which aired behind the NFC championship on January 30. (“Next Level Chef” has been rewarded with the plum Super Bowl LVII lead-out as Fox carries the Big Game this coming February.) More recently, on Thanksgiving, the decision to run a “Masked Singer” episode behind the Giants-Cowboys game (which attracted 42.1 million viewers, the largest NFL in-season audience on record) also paid dividends.
“60 Minutes”: This boomer still has bite. The venerated newsmagazine, now in its 55th season, holds 8 of the year’s most-watched telecasts in primetime.
NFL football: It goes without saying. The Super Bowl, at No. 1 with an average of 100 million viewers, is in a league of its own. But overall, the NFL holds 22 of the top 25 primetime telecasts of the year (with just the College Football Championship, one night of the Winter Olympics and the Oscars filling those other three slots).
Below, our ratings roundup of the year’s most-watched telecasts (in Live+7 ratings), according to broadcast and cable measurements, in both total viewers and adults 18-49.
[For historical record, here are previous year-end telecast rankers: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.]
MOST-WATCHED PRIMETIME TELECASTS OF 2022 (TOTAL VIEWERS)
THE 50 TOP-RATED PRIMETIME TELECASTS OF 2022 (ADULTS 18-49)
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