In a “heartbreaker” for television’s ad-driven business model, the month of February saw double-digit ratings declines for the fifth consecutive month.
Writing in the New York Post, Claire Atkinson reports: “February was another heartbreaker for the $65 billion television ad business. Commercial ratings — the viewing ‘currency’ that determines what advertisers pay for TV time — cratered across broadcast and cable networks.”
Broadcast prime time was down 12% from the year-ago figure for February in the critical C3 metric, with cable down 11%. C3 measures the average commercial viewership in TV programs up to three days after their original airdate, figuring in playback via DVRs.
In a research note, media analyst Michael Nathanson of Moffett Nathanson Research wrote: “It’s clear the downward spiral in TV ratings continues with no end in sight.”
Atkinson’s report adds: “While a couple of networks that carried the Super Bowl and the Olympics last year clearly suffered because of tougher comparisons, almost every channel was hurting. Looking at total-day C3 ratings, only three networks boosted their audience: HGTV, Discovery and TBS, while TNT, History and Nickelodeon fell the most.”
Nathanson indicates that the traditional strategy of compensating for lower ratings by raising ad prices may not work now, with networks under pressure to hold the line. While some ratings declines have been attributed to shifts in measurement methods by Nielsen, it is clear that TV now has formidable competition from streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.
“We believe these terrible ratings trends are … indicative of changing viewership habits,” Nathanson writes.