Most-Watched Television Networks: Ranking 2017’s Winners and Losers

It’s the ongoing truth of linear television: Double-digit declines are the norm for most of TV’s largest networks, as viewers continue to migrate to other platforms. They’re watching more TV than ever, but it’s just spread out, and the streaming services still stubbornly refuse to share just how many people are now consuming their wares.

The broadcast networks still lead, and CBS was the most-watched network of 2017, despite being down 10 percent vs. 2016. (Fox managed to be flat, but that was thanks to the Super Bowl, always TV’s most-watched telecast of the year). In adults 18-49, NBC led, buoyed by NFL Sunday Night Football and hit drama “This Is Us.” But it, too, was down 19 percent in the demo.

On the positive tip, major networks seeing viewership growth in 2017 included ESPN, MSNBC, Hallmark Channel, Investigation Discovery, A&E, TLC, TV Land, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, VH1, Nick Jr., Me TV, Travel Channel, BET, WGN America, NFL Network, CMT, Oxygen, BBC America, DIY, Nat Geo Wild, Velocity, The Weather Channel, and Sundance TV. Others seeing gains in adults 18-49 included Tru TV and MTV.

Here are some of the notable winners and losers from 2017:

HIGHS 

MSNBC: A year after posting record ratings thanks to the presidential election, Fox News’ primetime viewership was flat in 2017, and CNN actually dipped 16 percent. But the story was different at MSNBC, which continued its meteoric rise in an extremely newsy year. MSNBC jumped 50 percent in primetime among total viewers, making it the No. 9 network in all of television (and No. 5 in cable). It’s MSNBC’s biggest win ever over CNN.

Hallmark: A winner last year as well, Hallmark’s continued growth in the fact of industry-wide viewership erosion continues to impress. Everyone talks about Hallmark Channel’s dominance during the holidays with Christmas movies, but its feel-good fare impresses throughout the year: The network was up 9 percent among total viewers and 3 percent with adults 18-49. And then there’s rising sister network Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, which saw its viewership jump 26 percent in 2017 — the second-highest improvement, behind MSNBC, of any English language network.

A&E: A&E has finally escaped the shadow of its “Duck Dynasty” past, a megahit that skewed the network’s ratings for several years. When “Duck” collapsed in a sea of controversy, so did A&E’s ratings. But that’s all behind them, and after dabbling in scripted fare, a refocus on reality has helped A&E regain its mojo. Thanks to new hits like “Live PD,” A&E was another rare entertainment network success story in 2017 — a total viewer bump of 15% and a slight 1% uptick in adults 18-49.

The Weather Channel: This is the kind of success that unfortunately comes at a cost. After a turbulent year of hurricanes and terrible storms, The Weather Channel’s total viewership increased by 14 percent. The story of this year’s storms continues, of course, in Puerto Rico, which is still suffering from the effects of the storm. It’s believed than more than 1,000 people have now died as the island struggles to regain power and rebuild. Many Puerto Ricans are also moving to the mainland U.S., which may explain the 41% growth for WAPA America, the U.S. cable network arm of Puerto Rico’s oldest broadcast station.

True crime channels: Viewers love their murder, and industry leader Investigation Discovery proves that jumping another 10 percent among total viewers in 2017. But NBC Universal’s rebranded Oxygen, which is now in the true crime space, is also paying off: the channel was up 22 percent this year.

LOWS

WGN America: Put an asterisk here, as WGN America was actually one of the rare entertainment network growth stories of 2017: Its total viewership was up 10 percent, while adults 18-49 ratings bumped up 15 percent. But it was a bit for naught: Tribune Media, which is in the midst of potentially being sold to Sinclair, dumped its premium programming approach this year — and the executive and programming team that made this all happen have moved on. At least they pulled off their goal of making WGN America a more valuable property, and exited on a high note.

Disney: The kids business is a fickle one, as audiences graduate to older fare and teen stars grow up. That’s the case for Disney Channel, which has seen several of its signature shows depart, only to be replaced by lesser performers. Disney Channel was down 24 percent in 2017 (rival Nickelodeon was flat), while sister networks Disney XD (down 30 percent) and Disney Junior (down 11 percent) also experienced drops.

Spike TV: Viacom is probably getting out of the Spike business just in time, but in replacing it with the new Paramount Network in January, it will kick off with a smaller viewership base. In its final year, Spike dropped 20 percent in total viewers and 24 percent with adults 18-49.

Smaller networks: NBC Universal took the lead in shutting down small, minimal performing networks in 2017, as Cloo, Chiller and Esquire Network were all shut down. (Its Universal Kids, plummeting since being rebranded from Sprout, is now its lowest-rated English-language channel). But NBCU is far from the only company with tiny channels that are dropping viewers fast: Viacom’s MTV Classic was down 50 percent to a miniscule 16,000, while MTV2 was down 24 percent; Discovery’s Discovery Life (down 13 percent) and Discovery Family (down 20 percent) still haven’t found audiences; AETN’s FYI was down 21 percent; and Turner’s Cartoon Network spinoff Boomerang dropped 26 percent.

Here’s the ranker of almost every broadcast and cable network in 2017 (with the exception of certain digital networks, as well as cable networks that aren’t measured by Nielsen), according to total viewers. (Below this chart, we also rank the year’s top 50 most-watched networks in the adults 18-49.)

THE MOST-WATCHED NETWORKS OF 2017 (BY TOTAL VIEWERS)

TOTAL VIEWER RANK

NETWORK

2017 VIEWERS

2016 VIEWERS

% CHANGE

1

CBS

7,996,000

8,845,000

-10%

2

NBC

7,284,000

8,494,000

-14%

3

ABC

5,592,000

6,315,000

-11%

4

Fox

4,733,000

5,068,000

-7%

5

Fox News Channel

2,423,000

2,424,000

0%

6

ESPN

1,904,000

1,855,000

+3%

7

Univision

1,666,000

1,933,000

-14%

8

USA Network

1,662,000

1,771,000

-3%

9

MSNBC

1,615,000

1,079,000

+50%

10

The CW

1,590,000

1,768,000

-10%

11

HGTV

1,530,000

1,580,000

-3%

12

TBS

1,500,000

1,648,000

-9%

13

Telemundo

1,379,000

1,507,000

-8%

14

Discovery

 1,352,000

1,423,000

-5%

15

History

1,326,000

1,364,000

-3%

16

Nickelodeon

1,314,000

1,313,000

+0%

tie

TNT

1,314,000

1,574,000

-17%

18

Ion

1,270,000

1,281,000

-1%

19

Hallmark Channel

1,186,000

1,088,000

+9%

20

Investigation Discovery

1,097,000

996,000

+10%

21

AMC

1,088,000

1,300,000

-16%

22

CNN

1,067,000

1,273,000

-16%

23

FX

1,033,000

1,134,000

-9%

24

Disney Channel

1,023,000

1,343,000

-24%

25

A&E

989,000

858,000

+15%

26

Food Network

983,000

1,067,000

-8%

27

TLC

971,000

885,000

+10%

28

Adult Swim

963,000

1,213,000

-21%

29

Bravo

924,000

941,000

-2%

30

Nick at Nite

881,000

1,015,000

-13%

31

Cartoon Network

846,000

969,000

-13%

32

Lifetime

838,000

984,000

-15%

33

Freeform

760,000

853,000

-11%

34

HBO (Premium)

726,000

677,000

+7%

35

TV Land

709,000

615,000

+15%

36

Unimas

703,000

614,000

+14%

37

Hallmark Movies & Mysteries

694,000

550,000

+26%

38

VH1

647,000

642,000

+1%

39

Syfy

641,000

707,000

-9%

40

Nick Jr.

639,000

617,000

+4%

41

Me TV

617,000

596,000

+4%

42

MTV

578,000

584,000

-1%

43

Spike TV

563,000

705,000

-20%

44

Animal Planet

559,000

596,000

-6%

45

Disney Junior

545,000

615,000

-11%

46

OWN

534,000

572,000

-7%

47

INSP

528,000

439,000

+20%

48

Travel Channel

491,000

479,000

+3%

49

BET

475,000

445,000

+7%

50

WE TV

468,000

502,000

-7%

51

E!

465,000

544,000

-15%

52

Fox Sports 1

458,000

485,000

-6%

53

LMN

455,000

512,000

-11%

54

 National Geographic

451,000

515,000

-12%

55

Comedy Central

416,000

514,000

-19%

56

Tru TV

386,000

408,000

-5%

57

GSN

376,000

441,000

-15%

58

WGN America

373,000

340,000

+10%

59

FXX

357,000

401,000

-11%

60

Grit

345,000

342,000

+1%

61

ESPN 2

336,000

350,000

-4%

62

NBC Sports Network

329,000

399,000

-18%

63

NFL Network

326,000

308,000

+6%

64

CNBC

324,000

333,000

-3%

65

CMT

306,000

270,000

+13%

66

HLN

300,000

324,000

-7%

tie

Science

300,000

318,000

-6%

68

Bounce TV

298,000

300,000

-1%

69

Oxygen

298,000

244,000

+22%

70

BBC America

279,000

231,000

+21%

71

DIY

271,000

256,000

+6%

72

Nat Geo Wild

268,000

266,000

+1%

73

Velocity

261,000

221,000

+18%

74

The Weather Channel

248,000

218,000

+14%

75

Estrella

241,000

216,000

+12%

76

Sundance TV

236,000

215,000

+10%

tie

Starz (Premium)

236,000

253,000

-7%

78

Nicktoons

210,000

209,000

+0%

79

Disney XD

205,000

293,000

-30%

80

Showtime (Premium)

202,000

240,000

-16%

81

IFC

187,000

187,000

+0%

tie

Univision Deportes

187,000

217,000

-14%

83

Cozi TV

183,000

172,000

+6%

84

Reelzchannel

181,000

173,000

+5%

85

Destination America

178,000

194,000

-8%

86

Escape

174,000

193,000

-10%

tie

Pop

174,000

174,000

+0%

88

Laff

170,000

n/a

n/a

tie

TV One

170,000

205,000

-17%

90

Galavision

169,000

166,000

+2%

91

American Heroes Channel

168,000

179,000

-6%

92

MLB Network

160,000

148,000

+8%

93

FYI

152,000

192,000

-21%

94

Starz Encore (Premium)

149,000

178,000

-16%

95

Teennick

145,000

183,000

-21%

96

Cooking Channel

139,000

145,000

-4%

97

Boomerang

138,000

186,000

-26%

98

FX Movie Channel

131,000

133,000

-2%

99

RFD-TV

129,000

138,000

-7%

100

Golf Channel

128,000

131,000

-2%

tie

UP

128,000

127,000

+1%

102

Cinemax (Premium)

121,000

113,000

+7%

103

Discovery Family

118,000

148,000

-20%

104

MTV 2

118,000

156,000

-24%

105

Universal Kids

117,000

168,000

-30%

106

NBA TV

111,000

117,000

-5%

107

Fox Business Network

107,000

135,000

-21%

108

Great American Country

104,000

100,000

+4%

tie

Viceland

104,000

179,000

-42%

110

Azteca America

98,000

107,000

-8%

111

Smithsonian Channel

97,000

104,000

-7%

112

Discovery En Español

89,000

109,000

-18%

113

ESPN U

87,000

96,000

-9%

114

Ovation

83,000

79,000

+5%

115

Discovery Life

77,000

89,000

-13%

116

Logo

65,000

74,000

-12%

117

Universo

58,000

77,000

-25%

118

Baby First TV

55,000

50,000

+10%

119

BET Her

55,000

60,000

-8%

120

El Rey

54,000

54,000

+0%

121

Fox Deportes

53,000

61,000

-13%

122

Fuse

49,000

59,000

-17%

123

Tennis Channel

46,000

n/a

n/a

124

ESPN Desportes

41,000

40,000

+2%

125

Fox Sports 2

37,000

33,000

+12%

126

Cine Latino

34,000

29,000

+17%

127

Chiller

33,000

64,000

-48%

128

WAPA America

31,000

22,000

+41%

129

BEIN Sport Español

30,000

30,000

+0%

130

Discovery Familia

29,000

41,000

-29%

131

Nat Geo Mundo

28,000

38,000

-26%

132

Justice Central

21,000

n/a

n/a

133

MTV Classic

16,000

32,000

-50%

134

BEIN Sport

14,000

14,000

+0%

135

Fox Life

4,000

4,000

+0%

136

Comedy.TV

2,000

n/a

n/a

Ad-Supported Networks Source: Nielsen, NPM (12/26/2016-12/21/2017 vs. 12/28/2015-12/22/2016) Mon-Sat 8pm-11pm/Sun 7pm-11pm, Most Current. Ranked by 2017 Year-To-Date. Premium Networks Source: Nielsen, Cable Prime = M-S, 8-11P. Live+7 Total U.S. Ratings/000s as dated. Rank & % change based on 000s. CY17 to date = 12/26/16 – 12/03/17; CY16 equiv. = 12/28/15 – 12/04/16.

THE 50 MOST WATCHED NETWORKS OF 2017 (AMONG ADULTS 18-49)

18-49

RANK

NETWORK

2017 VIEWERS

2016 VIEWERS

% CHANGE

1

NBC

2,267,000

2,811,000

-19%

2

Fox

1,887,000

2,050,000

-8%

3

CBS

1,839,000

2,267,000

-19%

4

ABC

1,818,000

2,136,000

-15%

5

ESPN

801,000

792,000

+1%

6

Univision

742,000

903,000

-18%

7

Telemundo

696,000

755,000

-8%

8

The CW

695,000

813,000

-15%

9

USA Network

682,000

701,000

-3%

10

TBS

672,000

754,000

-11%

11

TNT

578,000

632,000

-9%

12

Adult Swim

554,000

656,000

-16%

13

Discovery Channel

518,000

581,000

-11%

14

AMC

507,000

635,000

-20%

15

FX

495,000

574,000

-14%

16

Bravo

470,000

490,000

-4%

17

HGTV

425,000

475,000

-11%

18

History

408,000

424,000

-4%

19

VH1

406,000

399,000

+2%

20

A&E

401,000

398,000

+1%

21

MTV

392,000

383,000

+2%

22

Food Network

390,000

435,000

-10%

23

Freeform

381,000

430,000

-11%

24

Ion

363,000

399,000

-9%

25

TLC

356,000

338,000

+5%

26

Investigation Discovery

350,000

324,000

+8%

27

HBO

337,000

343,000

-2%

28

Lifetime

333,000

423,000

-21%

29

Nickelodeon

327,000

315,000

+4%

30

Nick At Nite

326,000

364,000

-10%

31

Unimas

324,000

314,000

+3%

32

Fox News Channel

319,000

345,000

-8%

33

 CNN

295,000

365,000

-19%

34

Cartoon Network

282,000

302,000

-7%

35

Comedy Central

272,000

332,000

-18%

36

Hallmark Channel

269,000

260,000

+3%

37

Spike TV

263,000

345,000

-24%

38

MSNBC

262,000

202,000

+30%

39

Syfy

257,000

287,000

-10%

40

Disney Channel

252,000

328,000

-23%

41

 E!

249,000

305,000

-18%

42

BET

231,000

211,000

+9%

43

Tru TV

225,000

222,000

+1%

44

FXX

202,000

226,000

-11%

45

Travel Channel

181,000

181,000

+0%

46

Nick Jr.

171,000

167,000

+2%

47

OWN

169,000

199,000

-15%

48

 Disney Junior

168,000

191,000

-12%

49

 Fox Sports 1

166,000

197,000

-16%

50

 Animal Planet

164,000

192,000

-15%

Ad-Supported Networks Source: Nielsen, NPM (12/26/2016-12/21/2017 vs. 12/28/2015-12/22/2016) Mon-Sat 8pm-11pm/Sun 7pm-11pm, Most Current. Ranked by 2017 Year-To-Date. Premium Networks Source: Nielsen, Cable Prime = M-S, 8-11P. Live+7 Total U.S. Ratings/000s as dated. Rank & % change based on 000s. CY17 to date = 12/26/16 – 12/03/17; CY16 equiv. = 12/28/15 – 12/04/16.