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Nielsen Tops of 2012: Television
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Nielsen Tops of 2012: Television

Sporting and live events dominated when it came to wooing U.S. TV viewers in 2012, as has been the case in recent years.  Super Bowl XLVI set new viewership heights, by netting 111.3 million viewers, to edge out viewership for last year’s Super Bowl (111.0 million viewers).

Competition reality programming continued to garner high viewership as well. American Idol, Dancing with the Stars and The Voice all made the Top Ten list of regularly scheduled programs. For the second year in a row, only two scripted shows made the same list. This year it was NCIS and Vegas.

Time-shifting played a larger role in American viewing habits in 2012, as evidenced by the significant lift in program viewership, most notably with cable programming. Viewers time-shifted more of their viewing than in 2011, as each program on the list more than doubled its live viewership—last year, the highest gain was 90 percent. Cable shows comprised 90 percent of this year’s list and all of the top time-shifted shows were scripted dramas.

Stay tuned to Nielsen Wire for upcoming year end Tops of 2012 lists, including the tops in entertainment, advertising and digital.

Top 10 TV Programs of 2012 – Single Telecast

Rank Telecast Originator Date Aired Persons 2+ Rating Total Viewers (000)
1 Super Bowl XLVI NBC 02/05/2012 38.4 111,346
2 Super Bowl Pre-Kick NBC 02/05/2012 29.4 85,244
3 Super Bowl Post NBC 02/05/2012 26.5 76,803
4 Super Bowl Kick-Off NBC 02/05/2012 23.1 67,039
5 FOX NFC Champtionship FOX 01/22/2012 19.9 57,635
6 AFC Championship on CBS CBS 01/22/2012 16.8 48,676
7 FOX NFC Playoff-SUN FOX 01/15/2012 15.6 45,120
8 AFC Wildcard Playoff CBS 01/08/2012 14.6 42,371
9 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony NBC 07/27/2012 14.0 40,651
10 GRAMMY Awards CBS 02/12/2012 13.8 39,909
Source: Nielsen

Data from January 1, 2012 – November 25, 2012. English- and Spanish-language telecasts on Broadcast and Cable, Total Day. Persons 2+ estimates include Live and Same Day time-shifted viewing. Excludes telecasts under 5 minutes in duration.

Top 10 Primetime TV Programs of 2012 – Regularly Scheduled

Rank Telecast Originator Persons 2+ Rating Total Viewers (000)
1 NBC Sunday Night Football NBC 7.3 21,227
2 American Idol-Wednesday FOX 6.2 18,006
3 American Idol-Thursday FOX 5.7 16,450
4 Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick NBC 5.4 15,725
5 Dancing with the Stars ABC 5.3 15,458
6 Dancing w/ Stars Results ABC 4.8 13,922
7 NCIS CBS 4.7 13,629
8 The Voice NBC 4.6 13,255
9 NFL Regular Season ESPN 4.6 13,245
10 Vegas CBS 4.0 11,680
Source: Nielsen

Data from January 1, 2012 – November 25, 2012. English- and Spanish-language telecasts on Broadcast and Cable, Total Day. Persons 2+ estimates include Live and Same Day time-shifted viewing. Excludes telecasts under 5 minutes in duration.

Read as: NBC Sunday Night Football averaged 21.2 million viewers (7.3% of U.S. TV viewers aged 2 years and older)

Top 10 Timeshifted TV Programs of 2012

Rank Program Originator % Increase in Viewers from Timeshifted Viewing
1 Breaking Bad AMC 130%
2 Mad Med AMC 127%
3 Warehouse 13 SYFY 127%
4 Covert Affairs USA NETWORK 117%
5 Suits USA NETWORK 110%
6 Justified FX 108%
7 White Collar USA NETWORK 108%
8 Fringe FOX 106%
9 Sons of Anarchy FX 105%
10 American Horror Story FX 103%
Source: Nielsen
Data from January 1, 2012 – November 11, 2012. Broadcast Prime; Primetime Timeshifted Viewing %: Percent increase in rating is based on absolute difference between Live Person 2+ and Live+7 Projections. A program must reach at least a 1.0 live+7 P2+ rating and have at least 4 telecasts. Excludes breakouts, specials and programs under 5 minutes in duration.