TV ratings: Virtual NFL draft kicks the ESPN telecast to a higher level

Roger Goodell.
Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks from his home during the NFL draft, held remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Associated Press)

More people at home than usual and the absence of competition from game telecasts because of restrictions related to the coronavirus outbreak helped coverage of the first round of the NFL draft on April 23 draw record viewership, averaging more than 15.6 million viewers.

The ESPN broadcast was first among cable programs between April 20 and Sunday and seventh overall according to live-plus-same-day figures released Tuesday by Nielsen.

ABC’s telecast of the draft was 20th for the week and second among ABC programs, averaging 5.68 million viewers, 24.5% more than last year’s average of 4.56 million viewers. NFL Network, ESPN Deportes and digital channels also provided coverage, which was conducted remotely because of the pandemic.


The previous record viewership for the first round was 12.4 million viewers in 2014.

The CBS news magazine “60 Minutes” was the week’s only other program to average more than 10 million viewers, averaging 10.9 million viewers, its most since March 22.

Even with airing reruns of the season’s most-watched drama, “NCIS,” and comedy, “Young Sheldon,” CBS finished first in the network race for the 11th consecutive week and the 16th time in the 31-week-old 2019-20 prime-time television season. NBC was second, averaging 3.98 million viewers, followed by ABC, which averaged 3.63 million.

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Fox was fourth among the broadcast networks for the 12th time in the 12 weeks following its Super Bowl LIV telecast.

CBS had the week’s top-rated scripted program, “Blue Bloods,” which averaged 8.02 million viewers, sixth for the week and the first among 10 p.m. dramas. An “NCIS” rerun was eighth for the week, averaging 7.74 million, more than any scripted program on rival networks.

CBS’ “Man With a Plan” drew a larger audience than any other comedy, finishing 17th overall, averaging 5.83 million viewers, airing after a rerun of “Young Sheldon” that averaged 5.75 million viewers, 19th for the week.

With a declining amount of original scripted programming available, partially due to the pandemic, alternative programs were the most-watched shows on NBC, Fox and ABC and second at CBS.


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NBC won the week’s highest rating for alternative program, “The Voice,” which averaged 9.18 million viewers, third for the week, one spot ahead of CBS’ “Survivor,” which averaged 8.18 million viewers.

ABC’s ratings leader was “American Idol,” 16th for the week, averaging 6.09 million viewers.

“The Masked Singer” was Fox’s top-ranked program, averaging 8.14 million viewers, fifth for the week.

The premiere of “The Masked Singer: After the Mask” that followed averaged 5.38 million viewers, 22nd for the week and third among Fox programs, also trailing the procedural drama “9-1-1,” which averaged 6.84 million viewers, 10th for the week.

Sports-related programming also accounted for the week’s second- and third-ranked prime-time cable programs.

The third episode of the 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls, “The Last Dance,” averaged 6.14 million viewers on ESPN and ESPN2 Sunday, 14th for the week. The fourth episode that followed averaged 5.66 million viewers, 21st for the week.


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Fox News Channel was first among cable networks for the 14th consecutive week, averaging 3.27 million viewers. Its biggest audience for a prime-time program was the Tuesday edition of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” which averaged 4.70 million viewers, fourth among cable programs and 32nd overall.

ESPN was second among cable networks, averaging 2.56 million viewers. MSNBC averaged 1.93 million viewers to finish third after second-place finishes seven of the previous nine weeks.