Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you — if you’re CBS and you’ve got Oprah Winfrey interviewing Meghan and Harry. Sunday night’s much-hyped two-hour sit down with the (former) royals drew an eye-popping average audience of 17.1 million same-day viewers, per preliminary national Nielsen data. That’s more than double the tune-in for last week’s Golden Globes telecast on NBC (6.9 million viewers) and the biggest non-sports broadcast on network TV since last year’s Oscars, which drew 23.6 million viewers. It’s also a bigger number than the combined average weekly audience for ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox last week.
Oprah’s Nielsen triumph is all the more impressive coming during what is shaping up to be an annus horribilis for linear TV, with Nielsen numbers sinking across the board as a result of both COVID disruptions and the rapid transition to streaming. Even major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, have taken ratings hits. But despite strong competition — including the NBA All-Star Game and a new episode of a 90 Day Fiancé series — the combo of an American princess and the Queen of Talk was enough to get audiences to do something they’re increasingly loathe to do, i.e. sit down in front of a TV set at the same time and watch a show, (many) commercial breaks and all. Oprah With Meghan and Harry even did well — though not quite as spectacularly — with adults under 50, a demo which has abandoned linear TV more quickly than older viewers. The interview notched a preliminary 2.6 rating with viewers 18-49 and a 1.4 with those aged 18-34, easily dominating the night and outpacing the same-day demo ratings for top TV hits such as The Masked Singer and CBS’s own The Equalizer.
Not surprisingly, CBS says Sunday’s special was the network’s most-streamed broadcast this season, apart from its Super Bowl Sunday programming last month. Audiences were able to stream via the live feed in the new Paramount+ and CBS apps, as well as on the Eye’s website. Folks wanting to catch up on the interview, or watch it again, can still do so via the latter two options but not via Paramount+. That might seem odd, given CBS parent ViacomCBS has just spent millions marketing the brand new platform, and Oprah’s interview is the definition of Must-Stream TV. But there are several reasons why the special could be exclusive to the CBS-branded platforms.
For one, Winfrey does have an overall deal with Apple, and it is not unthinkable that her agreement with the company precludes her work from appearing on a competing on-demand platform. (The special was only livestreamed on Paramount+, with ads and via local affiliates.) What’s more, CBS may want to maximize ad revenue from the special, and keeping it on the CBS app — which, unlike Paramount+, does not have an ad-free tier — could be the best way to do that. Plus, with CBS All Access no more, the Eye may want to drive traffic to its new CBS-branded app. CBS and Paramount+ reps didn’t immediately say why the special isn’t on Paramount+, but the decision to keep it on the CBS app — while perhaps a tad inconvenient for existing Paramount+ subscribers — is actually consumer-friendly, since it doesn’t require potential viewers to sign up, log in, or pay for a new service in order to watch.
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