Skip to main content

Does Broadcast Primetime Viewership Spring Ahead With Daylight Savings?

The sleepy switch to Daylight Savings Time—and attendant
extra sunshine—that came into primetime play beginning Sunday night March 10
seemed to have a negative impact on viewership.

According to Billie Gold, VP, director of buying/programming
research at media agency Carat, some broadcast network series the week March
11-March 17, like ABC's Grey's Anatomy and The Neighbors, NBC's Community,
CBS' Two and a Half Men and Fox's American Idol, all hit series
lows. And CBS' hit sitcom The Big Bang
hit a season low on March 14.

Gold points out that there were many more shows that sank "awfully
close to those thresholds," and NBC endured the lowest-rated week in its

"With an extra hour of daylight, people tend to stay outside
longer, causing HUT [homes using television] levels to drop," Gold says.

A look at the Nielsen homes using television data for the
week before and week after the DST shift proves Gold correct on most nights.
The biggest different in HUT levels hit on Tuesday night. On March 5, the percentage
of homes using television was 63.9; on March 12 it dropped to 61.5, a decline
of 3.6%. That resulted in a 6.1% decline in 18-49 viewership and a 5.3% decline
in 25-54 viewership.

On Wednesday, March 6, the HUT level percentage was 63.4 and
the following Wednesday, March 13 it dropped to 61.3%, a hit of 3.3%. That
resulted in a 6.9% decline in 18-49 viewing and a 5.1% drop in 25-54 viewership.

HUT levels declined less on Thursday, March 14 and Friday,
March 15 compared to their comparable nights a week earlier, but they still
lost between 2.3% and 5.4% of viewers in the 18-49 and 25-54 demo on those
nights compared to a week earlier.

Many of the networks aired repeats the week of March 4-March
10—since it was the first week following the February sweeps, when most ran
four consecutive weeks of first-run episodes—so numbers would naturally be a
bit lower that week to begin with, making it a bit more difficult to simply lay
blame for the ratings losses on a DST shift, especially in cases where networks
continued with repeats the following week. Also making it more difficult is
that some series have been steadily losing audiences over a period of weeks,
even during the February sweeps, so that pattern following the shift to DST
might just have been continuing.

ABC shows The Neighbors and Nashville had been
steadily declining both in first run and in repeat so the declines they showed
between the week before and after DST took effect could just have been from
normal viewer defection.

The Neighbors on March 6 drew 5.7 million viewers and
a 1.7 18-49 rating. On March 13, after the conversion to DST, it drew 4.7
million and a 1.4 18-49 rating.

A repeat of Nashville on March 6 drew 3.2 million
viewers and a 0.9 18-49 rating and on March 13 it drew 2.7 million viewers and
a 0.7 18-49 rating.

NBC's Community on March 7 drew 3.3 million viewers
and a 1.5 18-49 rating with a first-run episode and on March 14 drew 2.6
million and a 1.1 demo rating with another new episode. But TheOffice
at 9, which aired a repeat on March 7 and drew 2.3 million viewers and a 1.1
demo rating, ran a first-run episode on March 14 and viewership increased to
3.5 million and a 1.7 in the demo. So in the case of The Office, a
direct comparison can't be made.

Fox's American Idol on March 7 drew 13.1 million
viewers and a 3.6 demo rating, but a week later drew 11.9 million viewers and a
3.1 rating. That said, Idol has been
steadily bleeding viewers all season, so this was more than likely a
continuation rather than something solely precipitated by DST timing.

But CBS' top-rated Thursday night sitcom The Big Bang
, which opens the
night at 8, drew 17.6 million viewers and a 5.5 18-49 rating on March 7. A week
later, after DST kicked in, it drew 15.9 million and a 4.8 demo rating. Two and
a Half Men
at 8:30 pulled in 13.5 million and a 3.9 in the demo on March 7
and the following week drew 12.2 million and a 3.3 demo rating.

ABC's Grey's Anatomy on March 7 aired a repeat, and
the serialized drama repeats notoriously poorly, so it's hard to compare with a
first-run episode that aired March 14, but the latter episode drew only a 2.6
18-49 rating, well below the 3.0 Grey's has been averaging this season.

Some shows were not affected at all or even grew ratings
despite the shift to DST. CBS' Survivor on March 6 drew 9.6 million
viewers and a 2.6 demo rating, and on March 13 it jumped to 9.9 million viewers
and a 2.7 demo rating.

The data and comparisons are food for thought and no doubt
will cause continued discussion among both media agency and broadcast network executives.
If the extra hour of daylight does motivate viewers to stay out longer or
perhaps for an entire night rather than a usual pattern of coming home right
after work, it could have a continuing impact throughout the remainder of the
season. But the thinking is that at some point, patterns in many instances will
eventually revert back to winter routines.

While Carat's Gold believes there's something to DST
negatively impacting primetime ratings, Horizon Media senior VP, research Brad
Adgate doesn't put much stock in the idea.

"I really don't think there is much impact from
the conversion to Daylight Savings Time," he says. "It's still dark by 8 p.m.
in the spring. Others may feel differently, but I believe if it's a great show,
people will either stay home and watch it or get home to watch it."