In a fun example of how subjective ratings interpretations can be, NBC is attempting to claim CBS’s long-held “America’s most-watched network” title, while CBS is claiming to still be the rightful champion.
And both of them can be right at the same time, thanks to a different ratings calendar. NBC’s preferred definition is the prior 52-week run, which obviously has a Winter Olympics and a Super Bowl. CBS uses the standard broadcast season, which cuts out summer programming and, essentially, ignores everything after May.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Rick Porter (which is definitely a BoJack Horseman name for Hollywood Reporter reporter) broke it down nicely:
The following things are all true:
1. NBC will lead the September-to-September TV year in adults 18-49, just as it did in the regular September-to-May season.
2. For the first time in 16 years, the network will also finish No. 1 in total viewers for the 52-week period, thanks in no small part to airing the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics.
3. Given those two ratings engines, the race for total-viewer bragging rights probably shouldn’t have been very close. But it was.
4. CBS can still credibly run promos saying it is “America’s most-watched network.”
It’s difficult to wrap your head around, but ratings are a form of accounting, and as with pretty much all accounting, there are usually ways to make the numbers show what you want them to show. Via THR, here’s NBC’s statement compared to CBS’s statement from May:
“I’m extremely pleased that NBC has prevailed once again in 18-49 and all demos, but we’re obviously thrilled to become America’s most-watched network in total viewers for the first time in 16 years,” said NBC Entertainment president Bob Greenblatt Tuesday.
“CBS is once again America’s most-watched network across primetime, daytime and late night, earnings a ratings trifecta in the 2017-2018 broadcast season, which concluded last night,” said CBS in a May 24 press release.
Essentially, NBC passed CBS over the summer after CBS narrowly came out on top for the traditional broadcast season. (As Porter notes, that CBS ended up on top despite NBC having a Super Bowl and an Olympics in early 2018 says quite a lot in itself.) Now both networks are going to end up calling themselves the most-watched network heading into the fall season.
No word on whether they’ll eventually put aside their differences and run joint ads laughing about how at least they’re not ABC.