NBA Finals games propel ABC to highest average viewership numbers for a network since May

A young boy with deer antlers in a forest
The series “Sweet Tooth” on Netflix was the most-streamed program the week of June 7-13.
(Kirsty Griffin / Warner Bros.)

Viewership for ABC’s coverage of the first three games of the 2021 NBA Finals was 32% higher than 2020’s record low but still 33.8% less than the 2019 Finals, which faced less sports competition and was played at the traditional time.

The first three games of the series between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns averaged 8.986 million viewers last week, according to live-plus-same-day figures released by Nielsen on Tuesday.

The first three games of last year’s finals between the Lakers and Miami Heat averaged 6.807 million viewers, with each game watched by fewer viewers than any Finals game on record before 2020. Records are available dating back to 1988.

The first three games of the 2019 finals between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors averaged 13.575 million viewers. All three series were carried by ABC.


In Thursday’s Game 2, Phoenix’s 118-108 victory averaged 9.381 million viewers, the most for a prime-time program since the May 4 episode of the CBS action drama “NCIS” averaged 9.679 million viewers.

Milwaukee’s 120-100 victory in Game 3 on Sunday was the only other prime-time program since May 5 to average more than 9 million viewers, averaging 9.019 million.

The Suns’ 118-105 victory in Game 1 on July 6 averaged 8.558 million viewers, the most among prime-time programs since the May 25 season finale of “NCIS” that averaged 8.956 million.

The three NBA games enabled ABC to average 4.56 million viewers for its prime-time programming between July 5 and Sunday, the most for any network since CBS averaged 4.57 million viewers the final full week of the official television season, May 17-23.

Outside of its NBA programming, ABC’s top-rated program was “The $100,000 Pyramid,” eighth for the week, averaging 3.993 million viewers.

NBC was second, averaging 2.88 million and CBS third, averaging 2.65 million.

NBC’s ratings leader was “America’s Got Talent,” fourth for the week, averaging 7.236 million viewers.


CBS’ top-ranked program was an edition of “60 Minutes” with three previously broadcast segments that were updated for the broadcast. It was fifth for the week, averaging 6.573 million viewers.

Fox averaged 1.67 million viewers, fourth among the five major English-language broadcast networks and fifth overall.

The cooking competition “MasterChef” had Fox’s biggest audience for the third consecutive week, averaging 2.608 million viewers, 37th overall.

The CW again was fifth among the five major English-language broadcast networks, averaging 460,000 viewers. The martial arts action-adventure series “Kung Fu” was its top-rated program for the second consecutive week, averaging 822,000 viewers, 131st among broadcast programs. Its overall rank was not available.

The week’s lone premiere on the five major English-language broadcast networks, the CBS alternative series “Secret Celebrity Renovation” was Friday’s ratings leader in prime-time, averaging 3.01 million, 24th for the week.

Three episodes of the Fox News Channel political talk show “Tucker Carlson Tonight” were the only prime-time cable programs to average more than 3 million viewers, topped by the Thursday edition which averaged 3.229 million viewers, 17th for the week.

Fox News Channel won the cable network race, averaging 2.024 million viewers for its prime-time programming. HGTV was second, averaging 1.252 million.

MSNBC was the only other cable network to average more than 1 million viewers in prime time, averaging 1.228 million.

“Sweet Tooth” topped the latest list of the most-watched streamed programs on the four services whose figures are released by Nielsen, with viewers watching 1.434 billion minutes of the eight-episode Netflix fantasy drama June 7-13, its first full week of release.