Massive, worse-than-expected TV viewing declines are causing headaches for broadcast networks and advertisers — resulting in a probable make-good inventory shortage and possible rare TV network cash-back payments to marketers. Steep primetime ratings declines — 20% to 30% for the TV season-to-date — resulted from the delayed start of many TV productions, forcing viewership to sink dramatically.
A couple hours after learning that the halo effect from the success of NBC’s The Sound Of Music live staging had spread to ABC’s bajillionth rerun of the 1965 movie, which clocked its biggest overall audience in six years and its best demo stat in three years (6.5 million viewers, 1.3 rating), NBC announced that the audience for its Dec. 5 live broadcast had climbed to nearly 22 million, and a 5.6 demo rating.
NCIS and The Big Bang Theory topped the Nielsen ratings last week, pushing the typically strong NBC Sunday Night Football into third place. CBS averaged 9.3 million viewers in primetime, followed by NBC with 7.5 million. Fox had 6.1 million, ABC had 5.6 million, Univision had 2.6 million and CW had 1.3 million. Telemundo had 1.4 million and Ion Television had 1.35 million.
It’s far in front among adults 18-49 but just barely ahead of Fox in 18-34s and CBS in 25-54s. Can those other networks catch up?
What do the wealthy young people watch? Apparently, a lot of Modern Family, Big Bang Theory and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Counting the first three weeks of the fall TV season, those are the top-rated broadcast shows among upscale young adults. In this context, “upscale young adults” are people in the key 18-49 age demographic in homes with a yearly income of $100,000 or more.
Boosted by the return of the NFL to primetime this month, NBC is on pace for its third straight summer victory, and its second straight standalone win. It tied with ABC and Fox for first in 2011 and won last summer outright with the Olympics. NBC has averaged a 1.6 adults 18-49 rating and 5 share this summer, dating back to May 27.
The Spanish-language broadcast networks have one major advantage over their English-language counterparts come summertime: They’re still serving up the same programming. While the Big Four are littered with repeats and reality shows this time of year, Univision and Telemundo are airing the same scripted telenovelas they air during the regular TV season. And that’s helped Hispanic TV to a strong start this summer.
It’s likely that in the coming broadcast season CBS will finish first among adults 18-49 for a second straight year. The more interesting competition will be for No. 2. Media Life predicts it will go to NBC, based on input from buyers and extensive analysis of the new schedules. Fox will finish third and ABC fourth.
It was another off year for broadcast. That’s certainly nothing new. Cumulative ratings for the Big Four networks have fallen seven of the past nine years. What’s different about this year is that, for only the second time in that span, basic cable ratings did not see an accompanying rise, indicating that viewers are being pulled away by other, non-TV things.
When you look at the results of the past television season, you might just find something interesting. It looks very much like last year. And the year before that, and the year before that, and before that and so on. Over 90% of the top 200 adults 25-54 primetime programs airing during this season were on broadcast.
Just weeks before ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel hopes to change the latenight TV landscape, the network’s Nightline continues to lead overall this season with NBC’s Tonight Show with Jay Leno just ahead of CBS’s Late Show with David Letterman.