May 18, 2021
By Nicole Bitette
In 2021, several of ViacomCBS’ biggest ratings hits have emphasized storytelling that is both gripping and relatable.
It was a water cooler moment—without the water cooler. On March 7, more than 27 million viewers tuned into CBS to watch Oprah’s primetime interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, about their exit from the Royal Family.
Around 8 million of those viewers came to the network for the first time and an additional 3 million tuned into CBS This Morning the day after, for more insight from Oprah and clips from the interview. That day, the morning show was #1 in total viewers and A25-54—the first time it was #1 ahead of Today and Good Morning America in both demos since at least 1991. The world caught on too, as over 70 million viewers across 20 countries in total watched the special on international outlets where the interview was licensed.
“TV is still the medium that gives you those unifying moments. Ultimately, TV makes culture,” explains Radha Subramanyam, president, chief research and analytics officer, CBS. “Everybody was talking to coworkers and family about Harry and Meghan.”
It was Markle’s candor in the interview that drew the audience, according to Subramanyam. Viewers sympathized with Markle’s experience and related to her struggles with mental health.
“Humanity is what succeeds on our platforms,” says Subramanyam. “I think that’s what’s so special about us. We’re bringing communities together, at a time when it’s most needed.”
"Broadcast remains the only place where you can amass large audiences at a given moment."
Chief research and analytics officer, CBS Entertainment Group
"Ultimately, TV makes culture."
“The competition reality genre has evolved culturally. It is less about the challenges and the prize and more about the growth journeys of the characters,” says Weir. “You have these incredible character arcs on the show that viewers really love.”
Another ViacomCBS competition series rallying its audience together: RuPaul’s Drag Race. The 13th season premiered on the first day of 2021 with the message “New Year, New Ru” and a heavy focus on inclusivity, a key element of the show. The premiere was the most-watched episode in the franchise’s history, simulcast across ViacomCBS’ cable networks, with 1.73 million total viewers (L3). On VH1 alone, it was up 13% compared to the Season 12 premiere. RuPaul’s Drag Race also has the most Emmy® Awards wins by a reality competition show, with 19 wins and 39 Emmy® nominations.
As the season came to an end on April 23, the finale delivered 1.2 million total viewers—the most since Season 10—and it was the best share ever for an episode. Season 13 was also the best share in franchise history. The series is currently the #1 most social cable program of 2021 thus far.