‘Yellowstone’ on CBS: More Than 3 Million Premiere Viewers Had Never Seen the Show Before

“Yellowstone” brought 6.6 million viewers to CBS when it made its broadcast debut last week, a number that climbed to nearly 7.5 million when accounting for three days of delayed viewing via VOD, DVR and other platforms. According to new data, around 50% of those viewers had never seen the cable drama before, while the other half was made up of fans who already knew the ways of the Dutton family ranch.

The Taylor Sheridan-created drama premiered on Paramount Network, one of CBS’ sister cable channels, in 2018 with 2.8 million viewers. It grew into a massive hit over time, with Season 5 opening to an audience of 8.8 million in November.

Set in Montana and starring a cowboy hat-wearing Kevin Costner, “Yellowstone” is certainly the kind of mainstream primetime fare that was likely already popular with the CBS audience. But as chief marketing officer Mike Benson told Variety earlier this month, research conducted before last year showed that a whopping 80% of CBS viewers had never seen an episode. Executives at Paramount Global said they mulled over that statistic for some time, looking for a window to fill that gap. When the Hollywood strikes cleared out most of the network’s scripted programming this fall, it became an easy time to experiment.

The repurposing proved successful. Helped by an NFL doubleheader and the Season 56 premiere of “60 Minutes,” CBS set a goal of 5 million viewers for its broadcast of the two-hour “Yellowstone” series premiere and cleared it. Not only did “Yellowstone” achieve 6.6 million viewers with its broadcast, according to Nielsen’s Live + Same Day data, but it retained 73% of that audience and landed 5 million viewers with Episode 2 the following week.

CBS insiders expected a week 2 drop in viewership due to the lack of an NFL doubleheader. It also seems likely that some of those declines came from first-time “Yellowstone” viewers who liked what they saw and knew they could turn to Peacock and begin streaming the show at their own pace instead of returning to CBS.

Bringing “Yellowstone” to broadcast didn’t just increase awareness of the show; it also increased access. Around 1 million of those premiere night viewers were in a category that Nielsen calls “broadcast only,” meaning they don’t subscribe to cable and wouldn’t have had access to “Yellowstone” on Paramount Network. Therefore, of those 1 million viewers, only those with subscriptions to Peacock would have been able to watch the show before CBS imported it.

Paramount Global’s next experiment will be the U.S. debut of the U.K. version of “Ghosts,” which premieres Nov. 16 on CBS. The U.S. adaptation of the sitcom premiered on CBS during the 2021-22 season as the most-watched new comedy across all networks, so bringing the original series to this side of the pond represents another opportunity to give CBS viewers new access to something of an old favorite.

It remains to be seen is whether repurposing reruns of series like “Yellowstone” will remain a part of CBS’ programming strategy when the initial effects of the Hollywood strikes have passed.

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