Jan 6, 2021 - Economy

The top 15 most-watched U.S. broadcasts of 2020

Data: Nielsen; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The most important 30-day stretch of the year for the television industry begins this weekend on the gridiron.

Why it matters: The 14 most-watched U.S. TV broadcasts of 2021 could take place over the next month: 13 NFL playoff games (up from 11 due to expansion) and Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship.

By the numbers: The NFL delivered 71 of last year's 100 biggest TV audiences, including 11 of the top 15, while the CFP National Championship ranked 18th.

  • The only 2020 broadcasts that rivaled the NFL postseason or the CFP title game were both presidential debates, the vice presidential debate and the State of the Union.

The state of play: Without a presidential election in 2021, football will be even more important to networks like Fox, ESPN, NBC and CBS, which will air the year's biggest broadcast: Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7.

The big picture: The TV ecosystem is like a huge game of Jenga, and the last piece holding up the whole thing is live sports. It's one of the only things that still moves the needle.

  • "The same can no longer be said for scripted programming, which continues to lose ground to the capriciousness of a commercial-avoiding audience," writes Sportico's Anthony Crupi.
  • The most-watched episode of scripted TV last year was the March 31 installment of CBS' "NCIS." It ranked No. 102 on the list, making 2020 the first year in which a single drama or comedy failed to crack the top 100.

The bottom line: Football is king.

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