Is One Show Dragging Down All of Television? Plunge in Spring Ratings Has Experts Pointing Fingers NY Times

With network series reaching new viewership lows this spring among viewers 18 to 49, fingers have been pointed to a few culprits, with the two main theories singling out a drop in ratings for "American Idol" and the string of repeats that aired starting in March, reports Bill Carter in The New York Times.

For the four weeks starting March 19, NBC shed an average of 3% of its younger viewers, or 59,000 viewers, while CBS lost 8% (239,000), ABC plunged by 21% (681,000) and Fox dropped by 20% (709,000), the story notes.

Even hits such as ABC's "Modern Family" have been hurt, with the program last week drawing its lowest rating for the season, the piece notes.

"The losses could not have come at a worse time for the networks, which are about to enter the television upfronts, the traditional season when advertising dollars are committed for the fall season," Carter writes.

One culprit in the ratings drop this spring could be the steep loss of viewers for "American Idol," which has shed 30%, according to Michael Nathanson, the United States media analyst for Nomura Securities. That could have a disproportionate impact on live viewing overall for prime-time shows, the story points out.

Another reason could be the string of repeats aired by networks beginning in March. Viewers increasingly avoid watching reruns, and then end up missing a new episode of a show such as "Modern Family" because they are unaware of when it will air, the piece notes.

Meanwhile, viewers with a "season's pass" for a show on a DVR will learn they have a new episode to watch, and will then skip a live TV program to watch the taped show, the story says.

"And that, many television executives say, may indicate a fundamental shift in how viewers consume television programming. They no longer watch nearly as much of it while it is broadcast," Carter writes.

Jeff Gaspin, former chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, sums up the lower ratings this way: “We are seeing the cumulative effect of nonlinear viewing,” and adds, “I think we are at a tipping point in how people are going to watch shows,” the story reports.

Carter writes: “Mr. Gaspin said that this year he and his 13-year-old son decided to try out the AMC series ‘The Walking Dead.’ Hooked by the first two episodes, they set aside an hour at 9 each night to watch the first two years, hour by hour, which Mr. Gaspin had collected through every means available -- some episodes from Netflix, some from iTunes, some recorded on the family DVR....I hate to say this to the AMC executives and everybody else in the business, but I will never watch ‘Walking Dead’ live again.”