The broadcast networks will be happy to put 2020 in their rear view mirror. Unlike streaming platforms, which got a tremendous boost from the nationwide shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the broadcast networks endured steep drops in primetime viewing this year. The drops in Nielsen ratings go far beyond the typical erosion of the past decade that is a result of viewer fragmentation due to the dramatic increase in content options coming from streaming services. Above, ABC was fortunate to be able to make fresh episodes of its unscripted hits like The Bachelorette.
2020 was not, by any standard, a typical year. Even the linear television universe, a familiar and cyclical staple of media, saw its fair share of oddities. Halts in production of new and existing shows, delays in fall TV season premieres and an overall sense of time lost became realities as Americans were forced to recalibrate to spending more time at home for the good of public health and their communities. And in all likelihood, the atypical nature of the year will be profound enough to drive permanent shifts in consumer behavior, including media consumption. In fact, we’re already seeing them.
The pandemic didn’t slow down the NFL, which once again dominated Variety’s ranker of the most-watched television telecasts of the year. No surprise, of course, Super Bowl LIV was easily the top program of 2020, with 102 million viewers on Feb. 2. Actually, seven of the 10 telecasts of the year came from the NFL, and 28 out of the top 100 of the year. The other major sports leagues weren’t as lucky. Scripted series accounted for 39 of the top 100 slots, while competition series took up nine spots.
In a year like no other, only the most adaptive and bold marketers thrived.
It would be challenging to detail even a fraction of the loss, grief, anxiety and fear we have suffered in 2020; the breakdown of political and governmental norms; the degree of reckoning we are seeing in the U.S. over 400 years of violent racism; the changes to how we work, how we socialize, how we travel. So much about our politics, the economy and people’s daily lives has changed. There are few signs that our journalism is changing fast enough to keep up.