Identifying the best TV networks is a bit more complex than it used to be. While Nielsen used to be the number one indicator, streaming has made it only a factor.
Some network viewership numbers remain completely transparent while others, like Netflix, keep their data closer to the vest. In the following article, we rank the best of the best, using known viewership, trending popularity on social media, and quality of content as our guide.
Discovery Channel has thrived in the age of digital and streaming with a number of their shows scratching that DIY or reality television itch that leads many viewers to YouTube and other short-form video platforms.
With the recent arrival of Peter Faricy from Amazon Prime to take over the TV Everywhere line, that momentum won’t slow down any time soon. Shows of interest include Amish Mafia, Naked & Afraid, and Man vs. Wild. The network also runs a popular true-crime channel called Investigation Discovery (ID) that fills the void left by legendary shows like Unsolved Mysteries.
2. Alphabet Networks
It’s tough to rank the top broadcast networks because of the amount of parity between them. By “alphabet,” of course, we mean ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX. Each one plays in the realms of scripted drama, sitcoms, game shows, specials, and live sports.
Overall popularity can hinge on one or two shows or who has an NFL contract. In other words, it shifts, hence why we’ve placed them at a tie for 2020.
HBO, or Home Box Office, launched in 1972 as one of the first pay television networks. It has remained among the most popular TV channels for its half-century of existence because of original programming, unedited catalog content, and live sporting events and specials.
HBO also has a surprisingly robust history with children’s programming, serving as the starting point for wildly popular series like Babar and Fraggle Rock. Lately, its biggest successes have been scripted dramas like True Detective, Game of Thrones, and Westworld.
It plans to usurp Netflix this year in the streaming space with HBO Max, a next-level direct subscription platform. HBO Max will feature catalog content and more originals from HBO’s vast catalog.
You can’t have a discussion of the most-watched TV network in America without bringing up Netflix.
No one really knows how many people are watching Netflix, but its place in popular culture and billion-dollar commitment to original content shows that the original streamer is doing just fine in an area of uncertainty among most networks.
Netflix’s hold on popular culture can be seen through programs like Tiger King, Ozark, The Witcher, and a growing library of original movies, with Extraction being one of its recent hits.
5. Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime may not yet be at the top of the list of most popular TV networks, but it has scored original programming wins that are noteworthy. Bosch, The Boys, Jack Ryan, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel have proven that this relative newcomer belongs.
6. Disney Plus
We’ve ranked Disney Plus as No. 6 among the most popular TV networks not because it is inferior, but because it’s just getting started. Expect Disney Plus to climb the ranks quickly, especially as a package deal with ESPN+ and Hulu.
Disney Plus has the Star Wars and Marvel Cinematic Universe franchises going for it, as well as hilarious children’s programming like Bluey and Big City Greens.
Which of These Best TV Networks Is Your Favorite?
Picking the best TV networks can be tough given the plethora of options. What we’ve presented here are the “must-haves,” but what do you think?
Which ones should we have included? Leave a reply in the comments section below.