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The "Strike Effect", You Be the Judge

Categories: ',WGA Strike

Written By

January 11th, 2008

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If you haven't already, you're about to hear about how the WGA strike "ruined" the current broadcast TV season. But how much of the change in viewership is due to the strike, which has become a convenient scapegoat, and how much is due to other factors like the historical drift of viewers away from broadcast TV, additional non-TV entertainment choices, or simply bad programming?

With the data, you can be the judge. ABC has been down about 3% from the start of the season, and CBS likewise down about 8%. That's not the strike. The CW has been in free-fall from the start of the season, again, not the strike. NBC bottomed out at nearly an 18% decline y/y, and has lately been trending up. Fox benefited from improved baseball ratings, and along with NBC, some nice late season football ratings.

We'll keep updating this chart as the season progresses and watch the results.

1/15/08 UPDATE: I have changed the x-axis date scale on the chart to show the last date of the week charted instead of the first date. The data is unchanged.

Nielsen TV Ratings Data: ©2008 Nielsen Media Research, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 
  • Bryan

    Since this strike TV is going to be going down hill in about a month. I am going to look into a NexFlix account. I probably will be renting alot of movies with TV going to hell. Nexflix is probably the best way.

  • Mark McLaughlin

    The strike is a symptom. The hard trend is that consumer behavior is changing quickly and dramatically. The consumer used to be overwhelmed by 90 TV networks, now they are empowered by 10 million choices on-demand. The digitally empowered consumer intends to watch TV differently. The networks actually get this which is why you can buy “Lost” episodes to view on your iPod. The writer's get this which is why they want their share of the revenue as this content is monetized away from the traditional viewing and ad supported model called “primetime.” So, yes, we are hiding behind the writer's strike because we are not comfortable acknowledging the true hard trend.

  • Bryan

    Since this strike TV is going to be going down hill in about a month. I am going to look into a NexFlix account. I probably will be renting alot of movies with TV going to hell. Nexflix is probably the best way.

  • Mark McLaughlin

    The strike is a symptom. The hard trend is that consumer behavior is changing quickly and dramatically. The consumer used to be overwhelmed by 90 TV networks, now they are empowered by 10 million choices on-demand. The digitally empowered consumer intends to watch TV differently. The networks actually get this which is why you can buy “Lost” episodes to view on your iPod. The writer’s get this which is why they want their share of the revenue as this content is monetized away from the traditional viewing and ad supported model called “primetime.” So, yes, we are hiding behind the writer’s strike because we are not comfortable acknowledging the true hard trend.

  • http://iamatvjunkie.com Joe Bua

    Here here, Mark.

    I can only quote Capt. Jack Harkness from Torchwood when he says, “The 21st Century is when it all changes, and you've got to be ready.”

    Things are changing so quickly it's hard to figure out where the money is going to come from, but the Guild does realize that it's gonna come from somewhere besides this current model.

    The rest know that, too. NBC spent the week at CES, and for good reason. They need to be there. That's where they'll be doing business in no time.

  • http://iamatvjunkie.com Joe Bua

    Here here, Mark.

    I can only quote Capt. Jack Harkness from Torchwood when he says, “The 21st Century is when it all changes, and you’ve got to be ready.”

    Things are changing so quickly it’s hard to figure out where the money is going to come from, but the Guild does realize that it’s gonna come from somewhere besides this current model.

    The rest know that, too. NBC spent the week at CES, and for good reason. They need to be there. That’s where they’ll be doing business in no time.

  • Rena Moretti

    Bill, thanks for being one of the few people pointing what should be obvious (but apparently isn't!), that the strike is not the reason for the networks' viewership losses. :)

    I do disagree with the other commentators, however, that the internet is the reason for lost viewership.

    Extremely few people use the internet to get TV programs or assimilated. How many You Tube clips do regular people actually watch in a given week? Not that many (in spite of what the hype says).

    The main reason for viewership losses is the decline in the quality of programming.

    The networks are relying on shows that are long past their prime (ER is a good example) or are quickly losing their luster (CSI and Without a Trace come to mind) and are all-too-quick to greenlight bad reality shows instead of trying to make the next big hits.

    NBC squandered its almost miraculous Thursday fortunes by producing a string of bad sitcoms that don't appeal to their audience, for instance.

    And when you put your marketing might behind shows like Bionic Woman or Gossip Girl, do you really need the internet or the strike to explain the viewership losses?

    USA Networks is encountering the same internet, yet, its original programming attracts more and more viewers. The reason? It's well-written, generally well-made and attractive to the public in spite of not having the marketing might of its parent NBC.

    Don't be fooled by the network PR blaming the internet. They think that if they repeat it often enough, people (particularly on Wall Street) will buy it and keep losing executive teams in place (Jeff Zucker-Ben Silverman anyone?)

    The reality is that if you make a great show, the audience flocks. But precious few great shows are made right now. I'd argue there was only a couple of decent shows to premiere this season, one of the worst quality-wise in years.

    Incompetence in the executive ranks is to blame. They're the ones who keep ordering endless clones of past hits, who keep asking for bad directing on their shows (NBC), who keep hiring producers with a track record of bombs (David Eick, Josh Schwartz, the list is long), who keep making the shows shorter and shorter and permitted on-screen promos and logos during their shows.

    It's not the strike. It's not the internet. It's the network executives.

  • Rena Moretti

    Bill, thanks for being one of the few people pointing what should be obvious (but apparently isn’t!), that the strike is not the reason for the networks’ viewership losses. :)

    I do disagree with the other commentators, however, that the internet is the reason for lost viewership.

    Extremely few people use the internet to get TV programs or assimilated. How many You Tube clips do regular people actually watch in a given week? Not that many (in spite of what the hype says).

    The main reason for viewership losses is the decline in the quality of programming.

    The networks are relying on shows that are long past their prime (ER is a good example) or are quickly losing their luster (CSI and Without a Trace come to mind) and are all-too-quick to greenlight bad reality shows instead of trying to make the next big hits.

    NBC squandered its almost miraculous Thursday fortunes by producing a string of bad sitcoms that don’t appeal to their audience, for instance.

    And when you put your marketing might behind shows like Bionic Woman or Gossip Girl, do you really need the internet or the strike to explain the viewership losses?

    USA Networks is encountering the same internet, yet, its original programming attracts more and more viewers. The reason? It’s well-written, generally well-made and attractive to the public in spite of not having the marketing might of its parent NBC.

    Don’t be fooled by the network PR blaming the internet. They think that if they repeat it often enough, people (particularly on Wall Street) will buy it and keep losing executive teams in place (Jeff Zucker-Ben Silverman anyone?)

    The reality is that if you make a great show, the audience flocks. But precious few great shows are made right now. I’d argue there was only a couple of decent shows to premiere this season, one of the worst quality-wise in years.

    Incompetence in the executive ranks is to blame. They’re the ones who keep ordering endless clones of past hits, who keep asking for bad directing on their shows (NBC), who keep hiring producers with a track record of bombs (David Eick, Josh Schwartz, the list is long), who keep making the shows shorter and shorter and permitted on-screen promos and logos during their shows.

    It’s not the strike. It’s not the internet. It’s the network executives.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    It seems pretty clear to me that the broadcast networks viewer loss is attributable primarily to a shift to cable.

    I don't have easy to use trend data for cable viewing time, but we do know that overall TV viewing is flat, and if broadcast is declining, cable *must* be growing.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    It seems pretty clear to me that the broadcast networks viewer loss is attributable primarily to a shift to cable.

    I don’t have easy to use trend data for cable viewing time, but we do know that overall TV viewing is flat, and if broadcast is declining, cable *must* be growing.

  • Rena Moretti

    Good point Bill :)

    In the case of USA vs. NBC, it's pretty obvious that NBC should get the USA people to take over programming.

    USA is full of well-made interesting shows that hit and NBC keep popping bomb after bomb.

    As to the effect of the strike, NBC was very happy to compare premiere numbers for their strike shows with the awful season, but there's nothing that says their new shows will keep a high audience. We'll see, but I don't think American Gladiators is going to pack them in week after week…

  • Holly

    We havn't seen the effect the strike will have yet. December and January are traditionally full of repeats anyway, many of the major shows are either just now running out of new episodes or have a couple left, and the replacement programming is just starting. I think it will be a few weeks before we can tell how much/little the strike will affect overall ratings.

  • Rena Moretti

    Good point Bill :)

    In the case of USA vs. NBC, it’s pretty obvious that NBC should get the USA people to take over programming.

    USA is full of well-made interesting shows that hit and NBC keep popping bomb after bomb.

    As to the effect of the strike, NBC was very happy to compare premiere numbers for their strike shows with the awful season, but there’s nothing that says their new shows will keep a high audience. We’ll see, but I don’t think American Gladiators is going to pack them in week after week…

  • Holly

    We havn’t seen the effect the strike will have yet. December and January are traditionally full of repeats anyway, many of the major shows are either just now running out of new episodes or have a couple left, and the replacement programming is just starting. I think it will be a few weeks before we can tell how much/little the strike will affect overall ratings.

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