Top 10 TV Programs of 2012: Football Dominates Again

December 12, 2012

This article is included in these additional categories:

Broadcast & Cable | Media & Entertainment | Sports | Television

As in 2011, this year’s top TV programs were dominated by football telecasts, reveals Nielsen, with NFL programming occupying the first 8 of the top 10 shows of the year. Super Bowl XLVI between the New York Giants and New England Patriots took top billing, with 111.3 million viewers (38.4% of US viewers aged 2 and older), inching up from last year’s 111 million.

Other Super Bowl-related programs followed in the #2-#4 positions, while NFL playoff games occupied the fifth through eighth rankings. The Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony drew 40.6 million viewers to take the #9 spot, ahead of the GRAMMY Awards (39.9 million), the only non-sports telecast to break into the top 10.

American Idol Takes a Backseat to Sunday Night Football

While “American Idol” had topped the list of primetime programs from 2007 through 2011, this year it was bumped out of the top spot by “Sunday Night Football.” NBC’s highly-rated live sports event attracted an average audience of 21.2 million viewers (a persons 2+ rating of 7.3). FOX’s Wednesday night episode of “American Idol” averaged 18 million viewers (6.2 rating), while the Thursday night show averaged 16.5 million (5.7 rating).

According to survey results released in October by Ad Age, “Sunday Night Football” commands the highest average price for a 30-second spot. Its pricetag of $545,142 for 30 seconds is 60% higher than that of second-placed “American Idol,” broadcast on FOX on Wednesday nights. During the 2011-2012 season, “Sunday Night Football” and “American Idol” were about dead even. But while the SNF price jumped from $512,367 last season, “Idol” plunged from $502,900 to $340,825 this year. And, its Thursday night results show is down from $468,100 to $296,002. Still, ad prices peak for “Idol” in its final weeks and have reached more than $1 million for its season finales.

Time-shifting Doubles Audience for Some Programs

TV viewers are increasingly using their DVRs at the expense of watching programs live, and this practice has led to significantly broader audiences when factoring in this delayed viewing.

In fact, according to Nielsen, cable shows – and scripted dramas in particular – saw large gains when including viewing from sources such as DVR, video-on-demand, and StartOver. AMC’s “Breaking Bad” experienced the greatest increase in viewers (130%), meaning that the program more than doubled its live viewership when counting time-shifted viewers.

AMC’s “Mad Men” (127%), SYFY’s “Warehouse 13” (127%) followed in terms of audience boost, with USA’s “Covert Affairs” (117%) and “Suits” (110%) rounding out the top 5. All of the top 10 time-shifted programs of the year more than doubled their viewership. Last year, the top time-shifted program had an audience gain of 95.3%.

About the Data: Nielsen’s top individual telecasts data is from January 1, 2012 ”“ November 25, 2012 and includes English- and Spanish-language telecasts on Broadcast and Cable, but excludes telecasts under 5 minutes in duration. Persons 2+ estimates include Live and Same Day timeshifted viewing.

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