A family watches television.

People watching TV as it airs is more valuable to advertisers. Image source: Getty Images.

While the television industry has fractured and many networks shows no longer command the audiences that were once common for Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) ABC, Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) NBC, and CBS (NASDAQ:VIAC), all still have some big hits.

There are shows which still draw a mass audience, the kind of programs people have to watch live. When the viewing audience watches live, of course, that's worth more to advertisers because they are more likely to see the commercials than if they watch on demand or on a DVR later.

Of the top ten programs which commanded the most per ad in the 2016-17 TV season, according to AdAge three are sports. That makes sense because in this day and age, when the internet and social media are only as far away as our phone, it has become next-to-impossible to not learn the score of a game you hoped to save for later. The other seven are watercooler shows -- programs that if you don't watch live, you will miss out on the conversation as people talk about them at work the next day.

Ellen Pompeo from Grey's Anatomy

The medical drama saw its ad rates rise in the 2016-2017 season. Image source: ABC.

10. Grey's Anatomy

Call the Shonda Rhimes' TV series the comeback story of the year, as it gained 23% per 30-second ad, from $157,609 in the 2015-16 season to $193,210 in 2016-17. That's still well down from its peak in 2007-08 when the show got $400,000 for 30 seconds, but it's still impressive for a show which has been on the air for so long.

The various Voice judges and coaches

The Voice uses celebrity judges and coaches. Image source: NBC.

9. The Voice (Tuesday)

Comcast's NBC actually beats the other three major networks by having five entries in the top. The Voice, its reality singing competition, actually airs on consecutive nights with Tuesday being the results show. That program, where viewers learn which competitors are moving on and which are going home, brings in $202,600 per 30-second spot.

Adam Levine and Big Boi perform on The Voice

The Voice judges incuding Adam Levine (right) sometimes perform on the show. Image source: NBC.

8. The Voice (Monday)

The Monday edition of The Voice does slightly better than the Tuesday one, bringing in $214,079 for a 30-second ad. That's down from $240,502 in the 2015-16 season, but the reality show has shown surprising longevity for NBC.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family

Modern Family is the rare sitcom that has become a major hit. Image source: ABC.

7. Modern Family

Sitcoms rarely crack through to the top ten, but Modern Family has been a huge hit since it first aired. The ABC show, which features multiple generations, brought in $224,571 for a 30-second ad in 2016-17. That's the second-most for the category and significantly more than the next-highest performing sitcom on the list, FOX's (NASDAQ:FOX) The Simpsons which took an a still-impressive $161,633 per 30-second ad in 2016-17. 

A coupe watches TV

This Is Us became a a huge hit in its first season. Image source: Getty Images.

6. This Is Us

This the lone new show on this list. NBC's This Is Us came from nowhere to command $272,000 for a 30-second ad. That's nearly unprecedented, but the show's unique time-shifted perspective and its tear-jerker story lines built the program quickly through word-of-mouth. 

Stars are brightly lit

The Bing Bang Theory is a comedy about smart people figuring out how the world works. Image source: Getty Images.

5. Big Bang Theory

When it first started Big Bang Theory seemed like a gimmick that would burn out quickly. A talented cast, however, turned the CBS sitcom into a show that's often the highest-rated scripted program on television. The comedy brought in $289,136 per 30-second ad in 2016-17, making it the second-highest non-sports program.

The cast of Empire

Empire has been a big hit for FOX. Image source: FOX.

4. Empire

Even though Empire slipped in the ratings a bit this past season, it still raked in the cash for FOX. The soap opera/drama took in $437,100 per 30-second ad making it by far the most-valuable scripted show on television.

Friends watch football

Thursday Night Football drew big ratings despite offering mostly lousy games. Image source: Getty Images.

3. Thursday Night Football (NBC)

The National Football League (NFL) splits its Thursday night package between NBC and CBS. The Peacock Network's slate of games brought in $485,695 for a 30-second ad while also giving the network a valuable platform to use to promote its other shows.

A young man makes the touchdown sign as he watches TV.

This edition of Thursday Night Football is one of only two shows to command more than $500,000 for a 30-second ad. Image source: Getty Images.

2. Thursday Night Football (CBS)

It's probably not surprising that the CBS version of Thursday Night Football came in just ahead of NBC's version. These games brought in slightly more money at $522,910 per 30-second spot, which may well be a testament to the CBS ad department's ability to sell as well as some luck with scheduling.

Friends watch a football game

The NFL dominates the top-10 list because its programming has to be watched in real time. Image source: Getty Images.

1. Sunday Night Football

The NFL dominates this list because football games can't really be time-shifted. If you skip the game, it's almost certain you will hear the results of it the next morning before you get a chance to watch. As the premier game of the week, NBC's Sunday Night Football takes in an astounding $673,664 per 30-second ad, easily placing it on top of this list.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.