Ratings for the two-hour season finale of "Empire" have made the series No. 1 with a bullet for the 2014-15 TV season.
"Empire" averaged 16.5 million viewers from 8 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, according to preliminary national ratings from Nielsen.
Among the advertiser-coveted audience of 18-to-49-year-olds, the prime-time hip-hop soap delivered a 6.4 rating -- topping all entertainment programs on the broadcast networks in the 2014-15 season with the exception of NBC's post-Super Bowl telecast of "The Blacklist."
The Wednesday 9 p.m. hour - which is the regular time period for "Empire," - scored a 6.9 rating in the demo. That pushes the series ahead of "Big Bang Theory" as the most watched entertainment series on broadcast TV season in the 18-to-49 category. Zoom out further to include cable, and it is second to only to AMC's "The Walking Dead."
"Empire" premiered in January to 9.9 million total viewers and a 3.8 rating among adults 18-49.
"It's an 80% increase in total viewers since the first week," noted Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research for Horizon Media. "That's extraordinary."
With the finale's numbers, the series continued its run of building its audience week-to-week, an impressive feat in an era when rating expectations for hit shows have been substantially lowered by a multitude of choices and the ability to catch up on most programs through streaming and video on demand.
Adgate noted that "Empire" is another strong example of how "catch-up" viewing through VOD and streaming helping build the live day and date audience of a show. Word-of-mouth on "Empire" drove viewers to sample the series on other platforms and won them over to the point that they needed to stay current with it.
According to Nielsen's most recent season-to-date data, through March 15, "Empire" has ranked fourth in overall viewers (15.63 million) over seven days of viewing when football isn't factored in. It's falls behind "NCIS" (19.07 million ); "The Big Bang Theory" (19.16 million) and "NCIS: New Orleans" (18.27 million).
And the Lyon family's antics in Wednesday's finale also played well in the social media space. The finale generated 2.4 million tweets during the on-air broadcast.