Skip to main content

Broadcast Nets to Viewers: OK, People, Holiday's Over

To paraphrase that beloved ol' Charlie Brown holiday nugget,
the Christmas season brings joy to many industries every year; broadcast
network TV, however, gets a rock.

Nielsen data shows that during the holidays, based on
viewership for all primetime programming, ABC lost an average of 714,000
viewers per night when comparing its season-to-date numbers for the week ending
Dec. 16, 2012, and the week ending Jan. 13, 2013. During that same period,
CBS was down 271,000 per night, The CW was down 89,000, Fox was down 79,000 and
NBC lost 65,000 per-night viewers.

Among adults 18-49, ABC fell from the 2.0 it was averaging
on Dec. 16 to a 1.8 on Jan. 13, CBS dropped from a 2.4 to a 2.2, NBC fell from
a 2.7 to a 2.6 and The CW dropped from a 0.6 to a 0.5. Fox,
meanwhile, held steady, averaging a 2.1 on both Dec. 16 and Jan. 13.

Christmas shopping clearly was the culprit for most of those
declines, along with the networks airing repeats in December, mixed in with special
holiday programming that may not have tickled viewers' fancy. However, January
will start what the networks hope will be a strong resurgence as they begin to
bring back historically strong shows such as Fox's American Idol, along with premiering assorted midseason series.

That's the plan on paper, anyway. Unfortunately, the
broadcast nets have not gotten off to a promising midseason start. Idol premiered on Wednesday night with
17.9 million viewers, down almost 17% from last year's season premiere, and
with a 6.0 18-49 rating, down 19%. While the 6.0 demo rating was the highest
for any regularly scheduled non-sports series episode this season, it still
shows that the Idol juggernaut
continues to bleed sizable audience numbers, which can't be a good thing for
Fox, a network with very little else to crow about on its schedule right now.
Fox has to be hoping that its new crime drama The Following, starring Kevin Bacon, lives up to the predictions of
TV writers who are saying it should become a viewer favorite (despite all the
press related to its violent subject matter).

A couple of other new midseason series on NBC and The CW do
not seem to be the hits their respective networks were hoping for. On NBC,
drama Deception premiered with 5.6
million viewers and a 2.0 18-49 rating in its Monday at 10 p.m. time period two
weeks ago, but this Monday fell to 4.1 million viewers and a 1.6 demo rating,
meaning the cancellation clock could already be ticking. On The CW, The Carrie Diaries premiered with 1.6
million viewers and a 0.6 18-49 rating. While the bar is lower for the
millennial-skewing network, if compared to its new freshman hit Arrow, The Carrie Diaries was a disappointment. Arrow is averaging better than three million viewers this season,
and it is not likely that The Carrie
will double its viewership in week two.

The broadcast networks have been posturing that the steep
declines would begin to level off as unsuccessful new series were dropped and
viewers returned to normal viewing patterns. However, Nielsen data through 16
weeks still shows the broadcast networks, except for NBC, are down significant
percentages in viewers and, more importantly, in the 18-49 demo.

Through 16 weeks for all primetime programming, Fox
continues to show the largest season-to-date decreases, down 20.5% in viewers
to 6.01 million per night, followed by ABC, which is down 10.9% to 6.83 million
viewers. CBS is down 8.2% to 9.85 million and the CW is down 3% to 1.43
million. The CW, with its lower audience base, has gotten a sizable lift from Arrow's 3.1 million average viewers in
its first season. NBC is up 15.4% to 7.8 million viewers, and as has been
widely reported, just about all of that increase is due to the network airing
two nights of singing competition The Voice, which it did not air during
the same period last season.

Through 16 weeks in the 18-49 demo season-to-date, Fox is
down 19.2% to a 2.1 from a 2.6, CBS is down 18.5% to a 2.2 from a 2.7, ABC is
down 14.3% to a 1.8 from a 2.1 and The CW is down 13.1% to a 0.53 from a 0.61.
NBC is up 18.2% to a 2.6 from a 2.2. Why so big a chunk for The CW? True, Arrow brought in lots of new viewers, but
many of them are much older than the network's traditional millennial audience.
Looking at the Nielsen data, The CW rating for the 50-plus demo is up 20.8% to
a .058 and its 45-64 demo rating is up 12.5% to a 0.63.

The broadcast networks have not had a very successful year
so far introducing new programming, but some of their veteran series continue
to do well and show a consistent pattern of season-to-season stability.

CBS' The Big Bang Theory is averaging 16 million
viewers and a 5.0 18-49 rating through 16 weeks this season. The entire last
season, Big Bang averaged 13.5 million viewers and a 4.7 demo rating, which
represented a growth from 2010-11 as well.

The second-highest rated scripted series on broadcast in the
18-49 demo is ABC sitcom Modern Family, averaging a 4.0 with 10.5
million viewers. That compares to a 3.5 last season with 10 million viewers and
a 3.8 with 9.6 million viewers in 2010-11.

CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, which many critics
predicted would finally fail this season, is doing quite the opposite. It is
averaging a 3.7 18-49 rating and 12.7 million viewers. Last year, with all the
early viewer interest in Ashton Kutcher replacing Charlie Sheen, it averaged a
4.4 demo rating and 12.6 million viewers. Two seasons ago, it averaged a 3.5
and 11.6 million.

These shows are part of a pattern of consistency among TV's most
popular primetime series:

  • CBS drama NCIS: This season-to-date, 3.4 18-49 rating
    and 18.7 million viewers; last season, 3.3 18-49 rating and 17.3 million
  • CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls: This season, 3.4 18-49 rating and 9.6 million
    viewers; last season, 3.4 18-49 rating and 9.9 million viewers.
  • ABC drama Once Upon a Time: This season, 3.2 18-49 rating and 9.5
    million viewers; last season 3.3 18-49 rating and 9.5 million viewers
  • ABC drama Grey's Anatomy: This season, 3.1 18-49 rating and 8.9 million
    viewers; last season 3.1 18-49 rating and 8.6 million viewers.
  • CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother: This season, 3.1 18-49 rating and 8
    million viewers; last season 2.9 18-49 rating and 8.5 million viewers.
  • CBS sitcom Mike & Molly: This season, 2.9 18-49 rating and 9.2
    million viewers; last season, 3.2 18-49 rating and 10.2 million viewers.
  • CBS drama Criminal Minds: This season, 2.8 18-49 rating and 10.9 million
    viewers; last season 2.9 18-49 rating and 11.2 million viewers.
  • CBS drama NCIS: Los Angeles: This season, 2.9 18-49 rating and 15.7
    million viewers; last season 2.8 18-49 rating and 14.2 million viewers.
  • CBS drama Person of Interest: This season 2.8 18-49 rating and 13.9
    million viewers; last season 2.6 18-49 rating and 12.2 million viewers.

If anyone needed evidence as to why CBS is still seen by
media buyers and planners as the most stable broadcast network, there it is.

On a smaller scale, ABC drama Revenge has shown some
solid growth in its second season. The network liked the series and felt it had
a smaller but loyal audience in its 10 p.m. Wednesday time period and
wanted to keep it on the air. So it moved the series to Sunday at 9 p.m. to go
head to head with veteran CBS drama series The Good Wife. While The
Good Wife
wins the viewer battle each week, Revenge wins the 18-49
demo scrimmage. This season, Revenge is averaging a 2.6 18-49 rating
through 16 weeks, compared to a 2.1 it averaged all of last season. And it is
averaging 7.9 million viewers -- not a huge number for Sunday night, but one
million more than it averaged last season.

There are still four months left in the current
broadcast television season and lots can happen. Many of these averages can
change. But that's not the issue for the networks. Their struggle has been and
will continue to be finding more series that can score like the reliable ones
listed above, and continue to draw a consistent number of viewers year after
year. That, for networks, would indeed be the gift that keeps on giving.