What did US TV viewers watch in 2021? After 2020 proved an exceptional year for news channels, notably due to the presidential election, in 2021, viewers appeared to have more of an appetite for sports.
As the covid-19 pandemic continues, TV viewers in the US appear to have grown tired of news channels. Have they got used to the pandemic? Can they no longer bear news that is too anxiety-inducing? Who knows. But if one thing's for sure, it's that in 2021, US TV viewers preferred to take a break after the events of the last presidential election.
According to TV ratings data from Nielsen,* reported by Variety, live sports were a hit with US TV viewers in 2021. And sports networks have benefited from this. The ESPN network increased viewership by 11% in one year, with an average of 1.6 million viewers in prime time. The extreme sports channel ESPN2 even saw viewership up 48% compared to 2020.
NBC Sports saw a 17% increase, while Fox Sports 1 gained 25%. Even niche sports channels, covering golf and tennis, benefited from this craze, with a 12% and 34% increase in viewers.
CBS rides high thanks to Super Bowl
Other, more general networks enjoyed growth thanks to their coverage of sports events. This is the case of TNT, which saw 10% growth, aided by its broadcasts of the NBA and March Madness, the highly popular college basketball tournament. CBS, which remains the most-watched network in the United States, managed to maintain a stable audience, helped by its Super Bowl broadcast. And, at a time when streaming platforms are all the rage, NBC even managed to increase viewers by 9%, buoyed by its coverage of the Summer Olympics.
On the other hand, MSNBC, CNN and Fox News have all seen their audience ratings drop drastically with respectively -28%, -38% and -34% falls. And while US TV viewers have visibly taken less of an interest in news, business also appears to have fallen out of favor (-48% for Fox Business Network and -13% for CNBC).
Most-watched US TV networks in 2021 (per total viewers)
1. CBS / 5,574 million viewers/ 0% change compared to 2020
2. NBC / 5,484 / +9%
3. ABC / 4,077/ -10%
4. Fox / 3,683 /-12%
5. Fox News Channel / 2,394/ -34%
6. ESPN / 1,618 / +11%
7. MSNBC / 1,537 / -28%
8. Univision/ 1,432 / -1%
9. HGTV / 1,243 / -9%
10. Hallmark Channel / 1,115 / -7%
11. CNN /1,114 / -38%
12. TNT / 1,087 / +10%
13. Ion / 1,044 / -13%
14. Telemundo / 1,034 / +3%
15. TBS / 1,026 / -4%
TLC / 1,026 / -25%
17. History / 925 / -12%
18. Discovery Channel / 920 / -11%
19. USA Network / 848 / -6%
20. Food Network / 820 / -14%
*Source: Nielsen, NPM (12/28/2020 - 11/28/2021, Live+7 and 11/29/2021 - 12/12/2021, Live+SD vs 12/30/2019 - 11/29/2020, Live+7 and 11/30/2020 - 12/13/2020, Live+SD) Mon-Sat 8pm-11pm/Sun 7pm-11pm, ad-supported and premium pay networks. Nat Geo Mundo based on NPM-H. Ranked by 2021 year to date.