The Most Watched TV Shows in the World (Updated for 2024)

January 23, 2024 • Zachary Amos


Television shows come and go throughout the years. Some last longer — a lot longer — than others, but eventually, another show takes its place. In the never-ending competition for the viewers’ attention, some shows succeed and become global phenomena. However, it can get a little complicated when discussing the most-watched TV shows in the world. Nielsen ratings, syndication, home videos and the streaming era all influence popularity.

Of All Time

The most popular television programs, globally, of all time, may not be what you expect. Often, sports programs like FIFA or the NFL’s Super Bowl will break records in terms of viewership. With hundreds of millions of views, sports programs often reign.

In terms of the most-watched program of all time, NASA takes the cake. It was July 16, 1969, that 650 million people across the world tuned into the Apollo 11 mission.

However, those aren’t TV shows in the traditional sense. Here are some shows that have reached global status:

“NCIS” started in 2003 and has been going strong ever since. Currently, with streaming and DVR, the show gets around 9.8 million viewers — an impressive feat for shows today. Some consider it to have been the most popular show in the world in 2016 when it reached 47 million viewers.

The 1972 show, “M*A*S*H,” drew in 106 million viewers in its final episode, making it the most-watched series finale of all time. Even with streaming, these numbers are hard to beat in today’s digital climate.

Other shows that are strong contenders include:

  • “The Sopranos”
  • “The Twilight Zone”
  • “Baywatch”
  • “Lost”
  • “I Love Lucy”
  • “Star Trek: The Original Series”
  • “Saturday Night Live”
  • “Cheers”
  • “Seinfeld”
  • “The Oprah Winfrey Show”
  • “Friends”
  • “American Idol”
  • “Married with Children”
  • “Desperate Housewives”

You’ll notice that many of these shows started before the streaming and subscription era came about, which is why it’s important to break the shows down into different sections. What were the most popular and most-watched TV shows in the world a decade ago have different viewership categorizations than the ones of today.

Currently on Air

Some of the most popular shows of all time are still on today — like “NCIS,” “American Idol” and “Saturday Night Live.” However, there are other shows that are global hits, too — and are still on the air.

Specifically, “Grey’s Anatomy” has taken on a life of its own. “Grey’s Anatomy” is the longest-running medical drama on TV, coming back for its 20th season in 2024. It also has a widespread global reach.

“The Walking Dead: Dead City” is another popular show currently on air. Although its predecessor’s final run ended in 2022, multiple spinoffs keep the universe alive. Its opening episode reached over 2 million viewers overall, making it the most popular new cable drama of 2023. These shows are likely to stick around for many more years to come. Other most-watched shows on air include:

  • “Fire Country”
  • “FBI”
  • “Blue Bloods”
  • “Yellowstone”
  • “Young Sheldon”

The Streaming Era

In today’s era, streaming is everything. Whether it’s music, movies or TV, subscription-based viewing and listening has taken over. Watching on live TV is becoming less of the norm. Instead, watching on website livestreams or watching the next day is on the rise.

“Game of Thrones” is an example of a program that adjusted. While the show aired, HBO provided livestreaming from any device to watch. Viewers didn’t have to tune into a TV to have their views count. This show had a growing cultural impact across the world with the help of its adaptation to subscription-based viewing.


Netflix shows, too, are prime examples of how streaming shows are becoming increasingly popular. “Stranger Things” broke records for online viewing, with Netflix reporting that season four gained 1.35 billion viewed hours within the first month of its debut. As of January 2024, it’s still the second-most-watched Netflix original series. The first season of “Wednesday” took the number one spot, though “Stranger Things” still claims the most hours viewed.

Online viewership gets complicated because it calls into question how subscription streamers count views. Netflix, for instance, counts a view as the number of viewed hours divided by run time — whether it’s an episode or movie. That’s how “Wednesday” overtook “Stranger Things” as the most-watched Netflix original series. While the latter had more viewing hours, it also has a much longer runtime, so the former’s viewed hours per hour of runtime was higher.

Regardless of how you count them, Netflix claims some of the most-watched TV shows in the world. They include:

  • “Black Mirror”
  • “Squid Game”
  • “You”
  • “Glamorous”


A relative newcomer to the streaming game but not to popular content, Disney is also responsible for many of the most-watched TV series in recent years. According to an analysis by Whip Media, Disney+ had more most-watched streaming series than any other platform in 2023. These include:

  • “The Mandalorian”
  • “Loki”
  • “Secret Invasion”
  • “Ahsoka”

It’s worth noting that if you were to look at overall numbers, these shows wouldn’t come close to the all-time most-viewed series. If you’re just talking about new content, though, it’s hard to ignore their impact.

Other Streaming Services

Netflix and Disney+ may dominate the streaming space overall, but many other of the most-watched shows today come from other platforms. Apple TV+, Hulu and Prime Video don’t have as many top-ranking titles under their belts but each has a few shows competing with Netflix and Disney’s popularity.

The most-watched original series from these other streaming services in recent years include:

  • “Ted Lasso”
  • “Only Murders in the Building”
  • “The Bear”
  • “House of the Dragon”
  • “The Last of Us”

Thanks to these shows, other streaming platforms may compete more with the current leaders as time goes on. Netflix may have gotten an early lead thanks to the way it used big data to climb ahead, but streaming truly is anyone’s game now, as these series show.

Complicating Factors

These are many of the most watched TV shows in the world — past, present and streaming. The numbers usually come from Nielsen ratings, however, the streaming world complicates that sourcing.

Many of the companies ranking the top-watched shows treat streaming and cable TV differently, so they don’t always appear on the same lists. Even if they do, each site or source may count “views” differently, as evidenced by Netflix’s unique approach to ranking its own viewership. Consequently, it’s hard to say how streaming originals stack up against more traditional TV.

As the TV viewing world shifts to subscriptions, like HBO or Amazon, the idea of popular TV shows shifts. These shows reach different corners of the world and impact people in different ways. Whether they’re from the past or present, TV shows come and go — but the viewership stays.

Original publish date 6/28/2023 — Updated 1/23/2024