Coronavirus Pandemic

TV audience numbers surge in the US

LOS ANGELES • From family drama This Is Us (2016 to present) to crime series NCIS (2003 to present), audiences in the United States are flocking to television shows in numbers unseen for up to a year as coronavirus shutdowns and social distancing keep millions of Americans at home.

Police action series NCIS scored its biggest audience since February last year on Tuesday night, attracting about 13 million viewers - a 22 per cent increase over its last original broadcast on March 10, CBS said on Wednesday.

The Tuesday night season finale of heart-tugging NBC series This Is Us was the most-watched episode since September last year and saw a 21 per cent increase in viewers aged 18 to 49 over the previous week, NBC said.

Audiences for the big four US television networks - ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC - have been declining in recent years due to fierce competition from streaming, e-sports and social media.

US movie theatres and Broadway theatres have been shut down for almost two weeks and multiple US states have ordered the closure of restaurants, bars, theme parks and concert venues in a bid to contain the coronavirus epidemic. There are now more than 60,000 cases in the US and more than 880 deaths.

Streaming service Netflix was also expected to be a major beneficiary of the stay-at-home directives.

Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos told CNN on Sunday that viewing was up, but gave no details. Netflix on Wednesday declined to comment on recent viewership.

However, multiple shows on traditional television, including The Good Doctor (2017 to present) on ABC, The Masked Singer (2019 to present) on Fox and Survivor (2000 to present) on CBS are seeing a surge in viewers, according to ratings data.

Data analytics company Nielsen said in a report last week that Americans are expected to watch as much as 60 per cent more television across all platforms as increasingly restrictive shutdowns are implemented across the US.

The increases are not just for escapist fare. Sunday's topical news show 60 Minutes (1968 to present) reached 10.9 million viewers, its largest audience since December last year, CBS said.

Cable channel HBO is seeing increases for shows such as science-fiction series Westworld (2016 to present) and for older fare such as teen series Euphoria (2019).

Time spent on the HBO Now streaming service since March 14 was up over 40 per cent from a month prior, while daily binge viewing increased 65 per cent compared with the prior four-week period, according to WarnerMedia.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2020, with the headline 'TV audience numbers surge in the US'. Subscribe