Predicting a decline in the broadcast network primetime audience for the upcoming 2010-11 season is (still) like shooting fish in a barrel. After all, broadcast networks have been steadily losing primetime audience to ad supported cable networks for more than a generation.

But forget the “television is dead” meme, overall television viewing at home continues to increase, just not in broadcast primetime.

But predicting the magnitude of the decline isn’t so easy.

Last season (2009-10), after removing the boost NBC got via the Winter Olympics, the big four networks suffered a 5.5% decline in their combined adults 18-49 ratings.

Unfortunately, with the numbers I get I am unable to include the CW ratings. They changed from a Sunday-Friday to a Monday-Friday schedule and I could not make appropriate comparisons. This year I will be able to.

Here are two reasons why this year for broadcast ratings will definitely be different than last year:


1. The Jay Leno Show. In order to suck up to Hollywood and its affiliates, NBC has opened its checkbook and replaced the 5 hours of TJLS with scripted dramas. That’s almost certain to boost their overall ratings.


1. Baseball Playoffs / World Series. Last season baseball was very, very good to Fox. A long ALCS with the Yankees, and a long World Series with the Yankees. TBS gets the ALCS this season (good for Conan), so that’s already a handicap for Fox since the NLCS is typically lower rated. Fox could get long series (which drive ratings far more than the teams involved) again this year, or they could get the sweeps that hurt TBS ratings last year, but odds are baseball doesn’t provide them as big a ratings boost as it did last season.

There are plenty of other reasons why this season might be different than last season, but anyone who claims to know for sure is just guessing:

  • Hits, hits, hits all those new shows will be hits!
  • All the networks old shows are declining rapidly!
  • There’s no more Lost, serialized dramas are doomed!
  • Brett Favre is back, the NFL is saved! But what if he gets hurt?
  • Without Simon, Kara, and Ellen American Idol is dead, dead, dead!

I’ll lump all the guesswork together into a “who knows” tossup and guess about the same decline as last year.

Prediction: This season I’d expect adults 18-49 audience declines to average about 5% again for broadcast primetime.

Prediction recall: Last year I predicted a 10% decline for 2009-10. If I could have included the CW’s ratings, the decline would have been more than the 5.5% for the big 4, but it wasn’t 10%.

Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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