Disney's Agents of SHIELD and CBS' NCIS battle for TV ratings

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is Tuesday's highest-rated show so far this season, Image source: Disney/ABC

I'm not gonna lie; I was initially surprised by the precipitous week-to-week ratings drop turned in by Tuesday's midseason finale of Disney (NYSE:DIS) Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 

After all, last week everybody's favorite new comic book-inspired series enjoyed a massive 35% spike in viewership, which translated to an impressive 2.6 rating in the key 18-49 demographic. That was good enough for the show's second-highest audience of the season, trailing only the 11.9 million live viewers who watched its overachieving pilot episode back in September.

As a result, I was hoping for big things this week, especially considering it marked the final episode until Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns on Tuesday, Jan. 7.

Alas, much to my initial dismay, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s live ratings fell to a series-low 2.1, as "only" 6.11 million pairs of eyeballs tuned into its Tuesday evening broadcast. Sure, the show once again secured the night's top spot for the coveted men's 18-34 demographic -- for the 10th consecutive first-run airing, mind you -- but why such a big drop?

Dig deeper, fellow Marvelites...

If you're wondering what happened, look no further than CBS' (NASDAQ:VIAC) top-rated Tuesday juggernaut NCIS, which grabbed a staggering 19.3 million live viewers for a 2.9 rating. By contrast, last Tuesday NCIS wasn't there to offer die-hard fans a new episode, leaving CBS' largely captive live audience to temporarily revolt to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Naturally the skeptics cried out, lamenting that Disney was foolish to place Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the same time slot as NCIS, and that perhaps Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. just needs a different time or a new night going forward -- anything to lessen its competition and ensure its long-term survival.

But before all you Marvel fans start to panic, I've got some great news for you: According to Disney's ABC network, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is officially Tuesday's highest-rated show of the season.


How is that possible? As I pointed out last month, remember those live+same-day ratings can be a tad misleading, namely because such a large number of DVR-enabled consumers postpone watching their favorite shows until a few days later.

And on average, ABC says, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s season-to-date live+7 day rating came to a whopping 4.8 in the overall 18-49 demographic. By comparison, that bested every other Tuesday evening show, including a 4.6 rating for NBC's The Voice, and a 4.2 from CBS' NCIS.

What's more, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has improved its time slot by 86% over last year for adults aged 18-49, making it ABC's top-rated program in the hour since 2009.

So why the huge discrepancy between live+same-day and live+7 day ratings? I suppose some of it can be chalked up to the fact NCIS is currently in its 11th season, and longtime fans are probably loathe to give up their regular routine of watching CBS' live broadcasts in favor of a brand new show.

It seems safe to say, however, Disney doesn't mind if you wait to watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. until later -- as long as you watch it eventually, which is exactly how things have played out so far.

So rest easy, Marvel fans, because as long as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is winning over audiences where it counts, it won't be going away for a very, very long time.

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.