NFL football, ‘Big Bang Theory,’ ‘NCIS’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ top Nielsen’s 2019 rankings

"The Big Bang Theory" on CBS, starring Kunal Nayyar, left, Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons and Simon Helberg, was the second-most-popular show on television in 2019, according to Nielsen.
(Monty Brinton / CBS)

NFL football once again joined network hits including “The Big Bang Theory” and “Game of Thrones” as the most-watched shows on television last year.

For the ninth consecutive year, “Sunday Night Football” on NBC was the top-ranked show on television in 2019, averaging nearly 20 million viewers an episode, according to an annual survey by Nielsen. As usual, the year’s most popular special TV event was the Super Bowl, with 98.8 million viewers tuning in last February to see the New England Patriots defeat the Los Angeles Rams.

The NFL separately announced that 2019 was its most-watched season since 2016. The league noted that 182 million people watched at least one regular-season game.

New England Patriots punter Jake Bailey follows through on a kick in the second half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass.
(Elise Amendola / AP)

CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory,” which ended its run in May, ranked second in Nielsen’s list of top regularly scheduled programs in 2019 with 18.5 million viewers an episode. The sitcom about fictitious astrophysicists at Caltech in Pasadena, from producer Chuck Lorre, was a cornerstone of CBS’ prime-time lineup for more than a decade. Replicating its magic will be difficult in today’s splintered TV universe.

CBS’ long-running procedural drama “NCIS” came in third with 15.4 million viewers an episode.

Another show in Nielsen’s top five also waved a fiery goodbye: HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which ranked fourth in 2019 with 15.2 million viewers an episode. It is extremely rare for a cable show to catapult over broadcast programs in the Nielsen rankings, reinforcing the enormous appeal of the fantasy drama adapted from George R.R. Martin’s novels. The fire-breathing dragon saga ended its run in May, handing HBO a significant challenge to come up with a worthy successor.

Drogon knocks out King’s Landing’s defenses in this shot visualized by the Third Floor from Tyrion’s vantage point on a nearby ridge from "Game of Thrones" Season 8, Episode 5 “The Bells.”
Drogon knocks out King’s Landing’s defenses in this shot visualized by the Third Floor from Tyrion’s vantage point on a nearby ridge from “Game of Thrones” Season 8, Episode 5 “The Bells.”
(The Third Floor)

“Thursday Night Football” on Fox ranked fifth with an average 13.8 million viewers.

Nielsen has measured the size of TV audiences for 70 years — since the dawn of network TV. Its year-end rankings included prime-time shows on broadcast and cable TV. It formed the rankings from viewership spanning January through mid-November 2019.

The firm has struggled in recent years to accurately depict all forms of viewership because of the proliferation of digital media. More people watch shows on phones and tablets, and streaming firms, including Netflix, Amazon and now Disney+, tightly guard their audience numbers — making it difficult for Nielsen to provide a full picture of overall television viewership. Last week, Netflix announced that its most popular release in 2019 was “Murder Mystery,” the Adam Sandler-Jennifer Aniston comedy.

However, in its year-end report, New York-based Nielsen noted that traditional television has maintained its heft, reaching about 90% of TV viewers in the U.S.

Among Spanish-language programs, NBCUniversal’s Telemundo topped the charts with various installments of its hit telenovela “Reina del Sur II.”

Nielsen’s Top TV Programs (regularly scheduled) for 2019:
1. “NBC Sunday Night Football” (NBC) 19.98 million
2. “The Big Bang Theory” (CBS) 18.47 million
3. “NCIS” (CBS) 15.42 million
4. “Game of Thrones” (HBO) 15.19 million
5. “Thursday Night Football” (Fox) 13.83 million
6. “Sunday Night Football” pregame (NBC) 13.5 million
7. “Young Sheldon” (CBS) 12.54 million
8. “NFL Regular Season” (ESPN) 12.54 million
9. (tie) “This Is Us” (NBC) 12.42 million
9. (tie) “FBI” (CBS) 12.42 million
Notes: Nielsen National TV View Program Report. All Broadcast and Cable. 1/01/2019-11/17/2019.