More than 25 million people tuned in to see Ryan Seacrest ring in 2018 from a frigid Times Square, the biggest audience for ABC's venerable "New Year's Rockin' Eve" since at least 1991, the Nielsen company said. CNN and Fox also set standards for their celebratory coverage that night.
The cold likely cut both ways: with most of the country in a deep freeze, fewer people than usual may have ventured out to celebrate and those who stayed in wanted to see how outdoor partiers were dealing with the weather. The temperature in Times Square dipped into the low teens as the ball dropped.
"I'm finally getting feeling back in my extremities right now," said Rob Mills, a senior vice president at ABC who supervised Seacrest's show. Seacrest kept a running commentary on the weather, and ABC showed a clip of the show's originator, Dick Clark, with a frozen water bottle on a previous New Year's celebration.
Viewers were also curious to see if Mariah Carey could make up for her problem-plagued appearance on last year's show, where she appeared flustered and lip-synced through some of her performance, Mills said. This time, things went smoothly as she sang "Vision of Love" and "Hero."
ABC's viewership between 11:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. beat its previous standard of 23.2 million as 2000 melted into 2001. "New Year's Rockin' Eve" has aired since 1972, but Nielsen doesn't have reliable viewership records prior to 1991.
To put those numbers in perspective, about as many people watched Seacrest around midnight as watched the Grammy Awards in prime time last year.
Fox stationed Steve Harvey in Times Square this week for the first time, and reached 8.5 million viewers between 11 p.m. and 12:19 a.m., Nielsen said. That beat the audience for the network's specials with Pitbull from warmer Miami the past few years.
CNN reached 3.28 million viewers with its New Year's special between 11 p.m. and 12:30 a.m., bigger than any audience it has received since it started special New Year's coverage in 2005, Nielsen said. CNN's viewership has generally increased over the years, and the firing of Anderson Cooper's co-host Kathy Griffin made no difference. Griffin, who lost her CNN job after posting a depiction of President Donald Trump's severed head, was replaced by Andy Cohen.
Cooper revealed that he had spent nearly $3,000 on special heated clothing for him and Cohen.
"Every now and then you'd press a button and your pecs would get really hot," Cooper said during an appearance on Stephen Colbert's "Late Show."
Cooper and Cohen beat Fox News Channel's duo of Kennedy and Jesse Watters, which had 2.42 million viewers in the same time period, Nielsen said.
With television networks knocked off their regular schedules on a holiday week, CBS averaged 5.7 million viewers in prime time to lead the broadcasters. ABC had 4.5 million viewers, NBC had 3.9 million, Fox had 3.3 million, Univision had 1.5 million, ION Television had 1.3 million, Telemundo had 970,000 and the CW had 910,000.
Its schedule filled with football, ESPN averaged 6.2 million viewers in prime time. Hallmark was second among the cable network with 2.2 million, Fox News Channel had 1.56 million, USA had 1.51 million and TNT had 1.31 million.
ABC's "World News Tonight" topped the evening newscasts with an average of 9.4 million viewers. NBC's "Nightly News" had 8.7 million and the "CBS Evening News" had 6.9 million.
For the week of Dec. 25-31, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: "Primetime New Year's Rockin' Eve" (10 to 11 p.m.), ABC, 15.8 million; NFL Football: Oakland at Philadelphia, ESPN, 11.77 million; College Football Orange Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Miami, ESPN, 11.73 million; "Primetime New Year's Rockin' Eve" (8 to 10 p.m.), ABC, 10.52 million; "The OT," Fox, 10.5 million; College Football Fiesta Bowl: Washington vs. Penn State, ESPN, 10.17 million; College Football Cotton Bowl: USC vs. Ohio State, ESPN, 9.54 million; "Cotton Bowl Pregame," ESPN, 9.46 million; "The Big Bang Theory" (Thursday, 8 p.m.) CBS, 8.74 million; "Young Sheldon," CBS, 8.6 million.
ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. Fox is owned by 21st Century Fox. NBC and Telemundo are owned by Comcast Corp. ION Television is owned by ION Media Networks.
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