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

Apr 23, 2012  •  Post A Comment

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.”

3 Comments

  1. Networks have to stop moving things around. The cable networks can get away with it because they’re so scattered and repetitive. But the networks, that once had a strictly defined season, followed by a repeat season, followed by a summer replacement season, are losing the only tool that the newer medium, cable, doesn’t have: structured, never changing, scheduling.

  2. Structure is important and I agree that the way networks have mixed reruns with new has made it more confusing and forced more use of DVR’s. But also the quality of the network programming has to pick up. Every year fewer and fewer new shows get renewed and many are only renewed because there is nothing to replace them. How can the cable companies come up with shows like Justified and the Killing, while the networks deliver Revenge?

  3. Statistics are getting in the way of creative juices to finance a “good idea”.
    Programming chiefs used to go by their gut, buying into and backing a good idea with the fortitude to stand behind it long enough to gain an audience.
    The first part is the key…the ability to recognize a good idea. Too many “programming chiefs” aren’t close to being able to fill their title.
    Combine that with the committee decisions that are made after they put their multiple, grubby hands all over a concept taking the life out of it.
    It ain’t brain surgery, folks. It’s communication. Duh.
    Peter Bright

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