Everything to Know About America’s Favorite Channels

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Super Bowl 50 brought CBS more than 111 million viewers, making it the third-most watched program in television history. In 2015, pro and college football games took seven of the top 20 prime time spots for the year among viewers age 18 to 49, TV Insider reported. What else do we Americans like to watch? A few more noteworthy items from the TV Insider roundup:

  • ABC’s coverage of the Academy Awards was the most popular non-sports network broadcast of the year
  • Among regular shows, including both cable and network broadcast shows, AMC’s The Walking Dead dominated the prime time top 20 among adults aged 18 to 49, taking six spots, including several ties among multiple episodes of the show, for a total of 10 episodes that made the list
  • FOX’s Empire was the most popular ongoing network broadcast show among adults in the 18 to 49 age bracket, taking six of the top 10 broadcast telecasts
  • CBS’ NCIS and The Big Bang Theory also placed several episodes among the top non-sports network broadcasts

But which networks are most popular? Here’s a rundown of America’s three most-watched cable networks and who’s watching them.

ESPN

ESPN was once again the top cable network and the most-watched network overall in 2015, according to Nielsen data. This repeated ESPN’s performance in 2014, which saw the sports network beat out USA, TNT, Disney and TBS for the top cable spot.

ESPN’s dominance is nothing new: the network has been the only cable channel to consistently join the four big broadcast networks in the top five ratings spots among adult viewers for the last two decades, and ESPN is perennially the top TV brand among adult men. ESPN holds the top 20 spots for the most-watched shows in cable broadcast history, all of which are college or pro football games. The 2015 National Championship between Oregon and Ohio State holds the number one overall spot, while the October 2009 Monday Night Football showdown between Vikings quarterback Brett Favre and his former Packers holds the top all-time spot among pro games.

ESPN is off to a strong start again in 2016, with college football games giving the network the top cable spots for total-day audiences, prime time audiences, and audiences 18 to 49 for the week ending Jan. 17, according to Media Life Magazine.

FOX News

FOX News was the second most-watched network among prime time audiences and the third most-watched network among all-day audiences in 2015. FOX pulled an average of 17.9 million viewers a night between 8 and 11 p.m. EST, second only to ESPN. FOX first overtook CNN for the top cable news network spot in January 2002 and has retained that spot for the last 14 years, while CNN has lost ground to MSNBC in a battle for second place.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq gave FOX a ratings boost which has been sustained by shows such as The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity, along with coverage of U.S. election cycles. Over the last few years, Megyn Kelly’s Kelly File has competed with O’Reilly for the network’s top spot. Kelly’s hosting of this election cycle’s first Republican debate and her feud with Donald Trump propelled her past O’Reilly in the third quarter of 2015.

FOX News is off to a strong start again in 2016, with its State of the Union coverage giving it a boost and The O’Reilly Factor continuing to perform well, taking five spots in cable’s top 25 shows as of the week ending Jan. 17.

TBS

Turner Broadcasting System was America’s third highest-rated ad-supported prime time cable channel in 2015, coming in ahead of the USA Network and TBS’ Time Warner sister network TNT. TBS aims at younger viewers, with a lineup that includes original scripted comedies such as American DadGround FloorCougar Town and Men at Work; reruns of popular sitcoms from major broadcast networks such as The Big Bang TheoryFriendsSeinfeld and The King of Queens; original unscripted series such as King of the NerdsDeal with ItFunniest Wins and Meet the Smiths; movies and championship sports such as Major League Baseball and NCAA Basketball.