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MBPT Spotlight: Message To Marketers: Nielsen Data Shows Extended TV Viewing Is Down Vs. Last Season

Here’s a sobering stat—live-plus-same-day and live-plus-seven-day viewing are both down season-to-date for most returning broadcast primetime entertainment series. Despite widespread stories being written about how more shows are being watched in time-delayed mode, Nielsen data finds that’s not the case, at least for the broadcast networks.

The most-watched broadcast network primetime non-sports program, CBS drama NCIS, is averaging 15.9 million viewers per episode live-plus-same-day and 19.6 million viewers live-plus-seven-day, but those numbers are down compared to its averages for the same period last season—17.1 million live-plus-same-day and 20.2 million live-plus-seven-day.

The second-most watched broadcast network primetime series, CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, is averaging 15.4 million viewers live-plus-same-day compared to 16.1 million last season, and 19.6 million in live-plus-seven mode, compared to 20.4 million last season.

ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, averaging 13.1 million season-to-date in live-plus-same-day viewing, is down from 13.6, and its live-plus-seven-day viewership is 14.6 million, down from 15 million.

NBC’s Monday and Tuesday night editions of The Voice are also down both nights in live-plus-same-day and live-plus-seven-day viewership, as is Fox’s two editions of American Idol, and CBS dramas Blue Bloods,Person of Interest, NCIS: Los Angeles, CSI and The Good Wife.

On ABC, veteran dramas Grey’s Anatomy, Castle and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are down in both same-day and seven-day viewership, as are several NBC and Fox dramas and sitcoms. Grey's is still producing solid numbers in its new and more competitive Thursday night at 8 time period.

There are some exceptions. CBS news magazine 60 Minutes is average 12.5 million viewers live-plus-same-day and 13 million live-plus-seven-day compared to 12.3 million and 12.6 million last season. NBC’s The Blacklist is up 400,000 in live-plus-same-day viewership and 1.1 million in live-plus-seven-day viewership. However, The Blacklist viewership numbers are inflated a bit because a special episode ran leading out of this year's Super Bowl telecast.

CBS drama Hawaii 5-0 is averaging 9.7 million viewers compared to 9.2 million, and in seven-day viewing is averaging 12.7 million compared to 11.9 million last season.

ABC drama Scandal is averaging 9.7 million viewers this season compared to 8.2 million last season, and in live-plus-seven is averaging 13.8 million compared to 11.6 million last season. ABC sitcom Modern Family is down 100,000 in live-plus-same-day viewership, but up 1.1 million to 13.4 million in seven-day viewing. Another ABC comedy, The Goldbergs, which is airing on a new night, is averaging 6.6 million viewers live-plus-same-day compared to 4.9 million last season, and 8.7 million over seven days, compared to 6.5 million last season.

Then there are some veteran series that have really taken major viewership losses this season. ABC’s Revenge, which moved to 10 p.m. and lost last year's lead-in Once Upon a Time, is averaging 4.4 million viewers live-plus-same-day, compared to 6.2 million viewers last season, and 6.9 million live-plus-seven, compared to 8.8 million.

Fox drama The Following is averaging 4 million viewers, down from 5.6 million and Sleepy Hollow is averaging 4 million viewers, down from 5.9 million, and 6.1 million across seven days, compared to 8.6 million last season. On NBC, About a Boy has averaged 3.5 million viewers compared to 7.8 million last season, and over seven days is averaging 4.6 million, compared to 9 million last season.

CBS’ The Big Bang Theory has a live-plus-same-day demo rating of 4.0 this season, down from a 4.5 last season. Its live-plus-seven-day 18-49 rating is 5.8, down from a 6.4, but still pretty high.

The next-highest live-plus-seven-day 18-49 rating is Modern Family with a 5.0, followed by Scandal with a 4.8, The Blacklist with a 4.7, The Voice on Monday with a 4.3, The Voice Tuesday and Grey’s Anatomy, both with a 4.0, and CBS’ Criminal Minds with a 3.8.

Other veteran broadcast series with solid seven-day 18-49 demo ratings include ABC’s Once Upon aTime and Fox’s Wednesday edition of American Idol (3.6), Fox’s Family Guy (3.5), CBS’ Survivor (3.1) and CBS drama NCIS (3.0).

Among the broadcast network freshman series, the most-watched season-to-date has been CBS drama NCIS: New Orleans, which has averaged 15.4 million viewers live-plus-same-day and 18.6 million over a seven-day period. The series’ 18-49 rating is a 2.2, which jumps to a 3.0 over the seven-day viewing period.

Next most watched was Empire, which completed its short-run first season averaging 12.7 million viewers live-plus-same-day and 16.3 million viewers live-plus-seven. Empire averaged a 5.0 18-49 demo rating that jumped to 6.7 over seven days. Third among the freshman series is CBS drama Madam Secretary, which has averaged 12.1 million viewers and 14.7 over seven days. It has drawn only a 1.5 18-49 demo rating that jumps to 2.0 in live-plus-seven.

Among those top three freshman series, Empire skews youngest with a median age audience of 45. NCIS: New Orleans has a median age audience of 63, while Madam Secretary’s median age audience is 64.

Despite the dwindling numbers of both live and extended viewers of broadcast network shows, most still deliver mass audience numbers that advertisers cannot reach any other way, whether it be same-day or over seven days.

However, Brad Adgate, senior VP, research at Horizon Media sees some longer range danger signs in the numbers, even if they aren’t going to impact marketers over the next few upfronts.

“There is just more competition with good programming in so many places and on so many platforms than ever before,” he says. “The broadcast networks are not just facing competition from cable but from all sorts of streaming services on assorted devices.

That’s why you see the broadcasters introducing more new programming in March and April than before. The broadcast networks are throwing out the traditional TV season model and are premiering new shows during times that they never used to.”

As for the declining viewership of broadcast shows both live and delayed, Adgate says some of that is a result of millennial viewers no longer watching traditional television, and the fact that many of the streaming programming services on multiple devices other than television are not being measured.

And Adgate says it’s possible that the decline in seven-day broadcast viewership numbers is due to people watching content beyond seven days. “There’s just so much to watch that people DVR it and can’t get around to watching it within that seven-day window.”