Skip to main content

MBPT Spotlight: Broadcast Soap Operas, Unlike Primetime Shows, Holding on to Viewers This Summer

During the summer months when viewers abandon broadcast network primetime programming in droves, the daytime soap operas have a much better track record. While hit broadcast shows that air in repeat during the summer lose as much as 50% of their regular-season audience, two of the four soaps have actually increased their viewership so far this summer vs. the regular season and the other two are down low-to-mid single digits.

Yes, the soaps are operating off a smaller total audience base, drawing between 2.4 million and 4.8 million viewers during the regular season, but it is still worth noting that those viewers still watching the soaps are very much loyal to them.

One factor working in the soaps’ favor is that each episode is first run during the summer. In fact, original programming is also helping other network daytime programming — talk and game shows — hold onto viewers.

So how have the soaps been performing since the end of the regular season in late May?

The two CBS soaps – The Young and The Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful are actually drawing more viewers per episode this summer than they did during the regular season, according to Nielsen live-plus-same day numbers. The Young and The Restless averaged 4.84 million viewers during season and this summer it is up to 4.88 million, an increase of 40,000 viewers per episode or 2%. The Bold and The Beautiful averaged 3.74 million viewers during the regular season and that is up 1% or 40,000 viewers this summer.

NBC’s Days of Our Lives, which averaged 2.39 million viewers during the regular season, is down 70,000 viewers per episode this summer or a decline of 3%. ABC soap General Hospital, which averaged 2.93 million viewers during the regular season, is down 210,000 viewers per episode or a decline of 7%.

Brad Adgate, senior VP, research, at Horizon Media, says that the small falloff in audience over the summer supports the thought that the remaining four soap operas could be around for several more years.

“In recent years when the networks began to again cancel more of their soaps, the wisdom was that in a few years all the soaps would be gone, but these summer numbers are diffusing that thinking,” Adgate says.

Adgate says daytime summer PUT (persons using television) levels may be more stable than summer primetime PUT levels. Part of that, he says could be because the same people are home during the day and continue to watch TV, while as it remains light out longer during the summer nights, more regular season viewers stay out rather than coming home to watch TV.

But what surprised him most was that two of the soaps have actually increased their viewership this summer compared to the regular season, even if it is not by a huge number. “That defies common wisdom about summer TV viewing,” he says.

The most-watched broadcast primetime drama, NCIS on CBS, drew 6.9 million viewers last week, down 55% from its regular season average of 15.5 million viewers. The most-watch sitcom, The Big Bang Theory on CBS, drew 7.2 million viewers last week, down 52% from its regular season average of 15 million viewers.

CBS drama Criminal Minds drew 4.8 million last week vs. its regular season average of 10.2 million, a difference of 53% and another CBS drama Blue Bloods, drew 5.3 million viewers last week compared to its regular season average of 10.5 million, almost 50% less viewers. And ABC’s most-watched regular season sitcom, Modern Family, drew 4 million, down 53% from its regular season average.

It should be noted, however, that the above mentioned shows still, in many instances, outdraw many of the broadcast network shows that are put on the schedule just for summer. But the networks also pull their serialized dramas like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder on ABC and The Blacklist on NBC because historically viewers just don’t watch them in repeat during the summer.

Also impressive are the CBS morning game shows. The two daily editions of Let’s Make a Deal are averaging 3.02 million viewers and 3.48 million viewers this summer, with one down 2% and the other down 3% compared to the regular season. Both The Price Is Right daily episodes are down 4% in viewers, averaging 4.66 million and 5.41 million.

CBS talk show The Talk and ABC daytime cooking show The Chew were in a total viewer dead heat during the regular season, each averaging 2.66 million viewers per episode. This summer The Talk is averaging 2.53 million, down 5%, while The Chew is averaging 2.45 million, down 8%.

The one network daytime show recording double-digit declines in audience vs. the regular season has been ABC’s morning talk show The View – down 14%. However, The View has been playing musical chairs with its cohosts and has also announced that some will not be back for fall. But even The View being down 14% during the summer is a way better percentage than the broadcast network primetime hits that run in repeat during the summer.

The show averaged 2.81 million viewers during the regular season, but viewership has fallen to 2.42 million this summer.

Some of that is due to the coming and going of cohosts – Rosie Perez and Nicolle Wallace have said they are not returning – and the on-air bickering among the cohosts. Then more recently cohost Whoopi Goldberg defended Bill Cosby against various rape allegations and legal actions against him, before reversing her support.

“Talk shows are personality driven and that’s true of The View,” Adgate says. “If the viewers don’t like or can’t identify with the hosts, they are not going to watch.”