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‘The Walking Dead,’ Super Bowl, Oscars, Olympics Lead the Top-Rated Telecasts of 2016

Sports ruled the year, as the Super Bowl, NBA Finals and World Series led this year's ranker. Multiple episodes of "The Walking Dead," "Empire," "The Big Bang Theory" and "Game of Thrones" also made the cut.

Most-watched telecasts of 2016

AMC, Rex/Shutterstock, CBS, Fox

YearInReview2016

Veteran hits like “The Walking Dead” and “Empire” may be experiencing ratings declines, but make no mistake: Negan and Cookie are still monsters.

All 16 of “The Walking Dead” episodes that aired in 2016 made it on to the list of the most-watched telecasts of 2016 among adults 18-49 (the demographic still preferred by advertisers). No other TV show can boast that stat. “The Big Bang Theory” landed 14 episodes on the list, while “Empire” had 10 and “Game of Thrones” had three.

Sports telecasts dominated the list – no surprise, given some of this year’s thrilling championship series. As always, the Super Bowl was by far the most-watched program of the year in all of TV, as Denver’s win over Carolina – quarterback Peyton Manning’s finale – averaged 112,576,000 total viewers.

READ MORE: Most-Watched Television Networks: Ranking 2016’s Winners and Losers

But right behind it, the history-making Game 7 of this year’s World Series, featuring the Chicago Cubs breaking their curse and winning their first championship in over a century, averaged 40,267,000 viewers.

Nielsen noted that the World Series and Olympics haven’t cracked the top 10 in recent years, but NBC’s coverage of the Summer Games in Rio also dominated this year’s list.

Other entertainment shows making the list: The return of “The X-Files,” which aired after Fox’s coverage of the NFC championship game; and the post-Super Bowl episode of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

Here’s our ratings roundup of the year’s most-watched telecasts, according to different broadcast and cable measurements.

MOST-WATCHED PRIMETIME TELECASTS OF 2016, ADULTS 18-49

The top 100 broadcast and cable primetime telecasts in 2016, overall by 18-49 (“most recent” data, which includes Live+7 DVR and VOD data):

RANK

SHOW & NETWORK

ADULT 18-49 VIEWERS
(RATING)

AIRDATE

1

Super Bowl 50: Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers CBS

48.1 million (38.0)

2/7/2016

2

World Series Game 7: Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians Fox

16.3 million (12.7)

11/2/2016

3

 NBA Finals Game 7: Cleveland Cavaliers vs.  Golden State Warriors ABC  14.4 million  (11.4)

6/19/2016

4

The Oscars ABC

13.8 million (10.9)

2/22/2015

5

The Walking Dead (701: “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”) AMC

13.7 million (10.6)

10/23/2016

6

NFC Divisional Playoff: Arizona Cardinals vs. Green Bay Packers NBC

13.5 million (10.7)

1/16/2016

7

Summer Olympics Tuesday Prime 1 NBC

13.3 million (10.5)

8/9/2016

8

AFC Wildcard Playoff:Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals CBS

12.8 million (10.1)

1/9/2016

9

The Walking Dead (609: “No Way Out”) AMC

12.7 million (10.0)

2/14/2016

10

The Walking Dead (610: “The Next World”) AMC

12.4 million (9.7)

2/21/2016

11

The Walking Dead (616: “Last Day on Earth”) AMC

12.2 million (9.6)

4/3/2016

12 (tie)

NFL Season Kickoff: Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers NBC

12.1 million (9.5)

9/8/2016

Summer Olympics Thursday Prime 1 NBC

12.1 million (9.6)

8/11/16

Summer Olympics Sunday Prime 1 NBC

12.1 million (9.5)

8/7/2016

15

The Walking Dead (612: “Not Tomorrow Yet”) AMC 

11.8 million (9.3)

3/6/2016

16

The Walking Dead (611: “Knots Untie”) AMC

11.7 million (9.2)

2/28/2016

17 (tie)

The Walking Dead (702: “The Well”) AMC

11.5 million (8.9)

10/30/2016

The Walking Dead (614: “Twice As Far”) AMC

11.5 million (9.0)

3/20/2016

19 (tie)

NFL Sunday Night Football: Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants  NBC

11.2 million (8.7)

12/11/2016

Summer Olympics Monday Prime 1 NBC

11.2 million (8.8)

8/8/2016

21

The Walking Dead (615: “East”) AMC

11.1 million (8.7)

3/27/2016

22

The Walking Dead (703: “The Cell”) AMC

11.0 million (8.5)

11/6/2016

23 (tie)

The Walking Dead (613: “The Same Boat”) AMC

10.9 million (8.6)

3/13/2016

NFL Sunday Night Football: New England Patriots vs. Arizona Cardinals NBC

10.9 million (8.5)

9/11/2016

25

NFL Sunday Night Football: Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings NBC

10.6 million (8.2)

9/18/2016

26 (tie)

The X-Files (premiere) Fox

10.5 million (8.3)

1/24/2016

College Football Championship: Alabama vs. Clemson ESPN

10.5 million (8.3)

1/11/2016

The Walking Dead (704: “Service”) AMC

10.5 million (8.1)

11/13/2016

29

Grammy Awards CBS

10.4 million (8.2)

2/15/2016

30 (tie)

Summer Olympics Sunday Prime 2 NBC

10.2 million (8.1)

8/14/2016

The Walking Dead (705: “Go Getters”) AMC

10.2 million (7.9)

11/20/2016

32 (tie)

NFL Sunday Night Football: Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings  NBC

10.1 million (7.9)

1/3/2016

Summer Olympics Wednesday Prime 1 NBC

10.1 million (7.9)

8/10/2016

34

Summer Olympics Opening Ceremonies NBC 

 10.0 million  (7.9)

8/5/2016

35 (tie)

NFL Sunday Night Football: Seattle Seahawks vs. New England Patriots  NBC

9.9 million (7.7)

11/13/2016

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (post-Super Bowl) CBS

9.9 million (7.8)

2/7/2016

The Walking Dead (707: “Sing Me a Song”) AMC

9.9 million (7.6)

12/4/2016

38

NBA Finals Game 6: Cleveland Cavaliers vs.  Golden State Warriors ABC

9.8 million (7.8)

6/16/2016

39 (tie)

NFL Sunday Night Football: Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears NBC

9.7 million (7.6)

9/25/2016

NBA Finals Game 5: Cleveland Cavaliers vs.  Golden State Warriors ABC

9.7 million (7.6)

6/13/2016

41

The Walking Dead (708: “Hearts Still Beating”) AMC

9.6 million (7.4)

12/11/2016

42

The Walking Dead (706: “Swear”) AMC

9.4 million (7.3)

11/27/2016

43

NBA Finals Game 1: Cleveland Cavaliers vs.  Golden State Warriors ABC

9.3 million (7.4)

6/2/2016

44

Summer Olympics Monday Prime 2 NBC

9.1 million (7.2)

8/15/2016

45 (tie)

Summer Olympics Tuesday Prime 2 NBC

8.9 million (7.1)

8/16/2016

NFL Thursday Special: Indianapolis Colts vs. Pittsburgh Steelers NBC

8.9 million (6.9)

11/24/2016

47 (tie)

Summer Olympics Saturday Prime 2 NBC

8.8 million (6.9)

8/13/2016

Thursday Night Football: Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota Vikings NBC/NFL Network

8.8 million (6.8)

12/1/2016

49

World Series Game 5: Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians Fox

8.7 million (6.7)

10/30/2016

50

NFL Sunday Night Football: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Kansas City Chiefs NBC

8.6 million (6.7)

10/2/2016

51 (tie)

NFL Sunday Night Football: Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders NBC

8.5 million (6.6)

11/6/2016

World Series Game 6: Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians Fox

8.5 million (6.6)

11/1/2016

53 (tie)

NFL Sunday Night Football: Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys NBC

8.4 million (6.5)

10/30/2016

Summer Olympics Friday Prime 1 NBC

8.4 million (6.6)

8/12/2016

55 (tie)

NBA Finals Game 2: Cleveland Cavaliers vs.  Golden State Warriors ABC

8.3 million (6.6)

6/5/2016

Empire (211: “Death Will Have Its Day”) Fox

8.3 million (6.5)

3/30/2016

57

NBA Playoffs: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Golden State Warriors  TNT

8.2 million (6.4)

5/30/2016

58

NFL Sunday Night Football: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Denver Broncos  NBC

8.0 million (6.2)

11/27/2016

59 (tie)

Empire (212: “A Rose By Any Other Name”) Fox

7.9 million (6.3)

4/6/2016

NFL Sunday Night Football: Green Bay Packers vs. Washington Redskins NBC

7.9 million (6.2)

11/20/2016

Summer Olympics Thursday Prime 2 NBC

7.9 million (6.2)

8/18/2016

62 (tie)

NBA Finals Game 3: Cleveland Cavaliers vs.  Golden State Warriors ABC

7.8 million (6.2)

6/8/2016

NFL Sunday Night Football: Carolina Panthers vs. Seattle Seahawks NBC

7.8 million (6.1)

12/4/2016

NFL Thursday Night Football: Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots CBS/NFL Network

7.8 million (6.1)

9/22/2016

Summer Olympics Saturday Prime 2 NBC

7.8 million (6.1)

8/6/2016

66 (tie)

NBA Finals Game 4: Cleveland Cavaliers vs.  Golden State Warriors ABC

7.7 million (6.1)

6/10/2016

NFL Sunday Night Football: Seattle Seahawks vs. Arizona Cardinals NBC

7.7 million (6.0)

10/23/2016

The Big Bang Theory (915: “The Valentino Submergence”) CBS

7.7 million (6.1)

2/11/2016

69 (tie)

Empire (301: “Light in Darkness”) Fox

7.6 million (5.9)

9/21/2016

Summer Olympics Wednesday Prime 2 NBC

7.6 million (6.0)

8/17/2016

Live from the Red Carpet 3 ABC

7.6 million (6.0)

2/28/2016

NFL Sunday Night Football: New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers NBC

7.6 million (5.9)

10/9/2016

73 (tie)

Game of Thrones (60: “The Winds of Winter) HBO

7.5 million (5.9)

6/26/2016

Empire (218: “Past is Prologue”) Fox

7.5 million (6.0)

5/18/2016

The Big Bang Theory (913: “The Empathy Optimization”) CBS

7.5 million (5.9)

1/14/2016

The Big Bang Theory (914: “The Meemaw Materialization”) CBS

7.5 million (5.9)

2/4/2016

The Big Bang Theory (1001: “The Conjugal Conjecture”) CBS

7.5 million (5.8)

9/19/2016

78 (tie)

The Big Bang Theory (917: “The Celebration Experimentation”) CBS

7.4 million (5.9)

2/25/2016

The Big Bang Theory (912: “The Sales Call Sublimination”) CBS

7.4 million (5.9)

1/7/2016

Empire (217: “Rise by Sin”) Fox

7.4 million (5.8)

5/11/2016

81 (tie)

Election Night in America (10 p.m.)  CNN

7.3 million (5.7)

11/8/2016

The Big Bang Theory (916: “The Positive Negative Reaction”) CBS

7.3 million (5.7)

2/18/2016

Golden Globe Awards NBC

7.3 million (5.7)

1/10/2016

84 (tie)

NFL Thursday Night Football: Oakland Raiders vs. Kansas City Chiefs NBC/NFL Network

 7.2 million  (5.6)

12/8/2016

The Big Bang Theory (1002: “The Military Miniaturization”) CBS

7.2 million (5.6)

9/26/2016

Empire (213: “The Tameness of a Wolf”) Fox

7.2 million (5.7)

4/13/2016

Empire (214: “Time Shall Unfold”) Fox

7.2 million (5.7)

4/20/2016

Empire (215: “More Than Kin”) Fox

7.2 million (5.7)

4/27/2016

Summer Olympics Friday Prime 2 NBC

7.2 million (5.7)

8/19/2016

Empire (302: “Sin That Amends”) Fox

7.2 million (5.6)

9/28/2016

World Series Game 1: Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians Fox

7.2 million (5.6)

10/25/2016

92 (tie)

College Football Playoffs Semi-Final: Michigan State vs. Alabama ESPN

7.1 million (5.5)

12/31/2015

Grease: Live Fox

7.1 million (5.6)

1/31/2016

94 (tie)

The Big Bang Theory (1004: “The Cohabitation Experimentation”) CBS

7.0 million (5.4)

10/10/2016

NFL Thursday Night Football: New York Jets vs. Buffalo Bills CBS/NFL Network

7.0 million (5.4)

9/15/2016

Game of Thrones (59: “Battle of the Bastards”) HBO

7.0 million (5.5)

6/19/2016

97 (tie)

Election Night in America (9 p.m.) CNN

 6.9 million  (5.4)

11/8/2016

Game of Thrones (58: “No One”) HBO

6.9 million (5.4)

6/12/2016

The Big Bang Theory (924: “The Convergence Convergence”) CBS

6.9 million (5.5)

5/12/2016

The Big Bang Theory (919: “The Solder Excursion Diversion”) CBS

6.9 million (5.5)

3/31/2016

The Big Bang Theory (1003: “The Dependence Transcendence”) CBS

6.9 million (5.4)

10/3/2016

The Big Bang Theory (918: “The Application Deterioration”) CBS

6.9 million (5.5)

3/10/2016

The Big Bang Theory (1008: “The Brain Bowl Incubation”) CBS

6.9 million (5.5)

11/10/2016

Empire (216: “The Lyon Who Cried Wolf”) Fox

6.9 million (5.4)

5/4/2016

Source: Nielsen. All telecasts, most current ratings, excluding pre/post game sports (12/28/15-12/18/16)

MOST-WATCHED PRIMETIME TELECASTS OF 2016, TOTAL VIEWERS

The top 25 broadcast and cable telecasts in 2016, overall by total viewers (“most recent” data, which includes Live+7 DVR and VOD data):

RANK

SHOW & NETWORK

TOTAL VIEWERS

AIRDATE

1

Super Bowl 50: Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers CBS

112,576,000

2/7/2016

2

World Series Game 7: Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians Fox

40,267,000

11/2/2016

3

The Oscars ABC

35,661,000

2/28/2016

4

Summer Olympics Tuesday Prime 1 NBC

35,003,000

8/9/2016

5

NFC Divisional Playoff: Arizona Cardinals vs. Green Bay Packers NBC

33,954,000

1/16/2016

6

Summer Olympics Thursday Prime 1 NBC

32,665,000

8/11/2016

7

AFC Wildcard Playoff:Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals CBS

31,371,000

1/9/2016

8

NBA Finals Game 7: Cleveland Cavaliers vs.  Golden State Warriors ABC

31,289,000

6/19/2016

9

Summer Olympics Sunday Prime 1 NBC

30,996,000

8/7/2016

10

Summer Olympics Monday Prime 1 NBC

29,507,000

8/8/2016

11

Summer Olympics Opening Ceremonies NBC

27,625,000

8/5/2016

12

Summer Olympics Sunday Prime 2 NBC

27,348,000

8/14/2016

13

Summer Olympics Wednesday Prime 1 NBC

27,055,000

8/10/2016

14

NFL Sunday Night Football: Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants  NBC

26,655,000

12/11/2016

15

Grammy Awards CBS

26,577,000

2/15/2016

16

Summer Olympics Saturday Prime 2 NBC

26,090,000

8/13/2016

17

College Football Championship: Alabama vs. Clemson ESPN

25,871,000

1/11/2016

18

NFL Season Kickoff: Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers NBC

25,411,000

9/8/2016

19

Summer Olympics Monday Prime 2 NBC

24,819,000

8/15/2016

20

Summer Olympics Tuesday Prime 2 NBC

24,817,000

8/16/2016

21

Summer Olympics Friday Prime 1 NBC

24,645,000

8/12/2016

22

NFL Sunday Night Football: Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings  NBC

24,400,000

1/3/2016

23

World Series Game 5: Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians Fox

23,706,000

10/30/2016

24

World Series Game 6: Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians Fox

23,459,000

11/1/2016

25

NFL Sunday Night Football: New England Patriots vs. Arizona Cardinals NBC

23,209,000

9/11/2016

Source: Nielsen. All telecasts, most current ratings, excluding pre/post game sports (12/28/15-12/18/16)

 

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