ABC, CBS, Fox Primetime Ratings Getting Crushed vs. Last Season

Categories: 1-Featured,Broadcast TV,TV Business

Written By

October 9th, 2012

In the three decade decline trend for broadcast TV primetime ratings there are seasons that are a bit better than the trend (like last season), and some seasons that are worse than the trend.

After two weeks of the 2012-13 season, it's shaping up to be a lot worse.

In first two weeks of the 2011-12 season, in the advertiser important adults 18-49 Live+Same Day DVR ratings, this season ABC was down 21% in week 1 and 10% in week 2, CBS was down 27% in week 1, and 17% in week 2, Fox was down 24% in week 1 and 19% in week 2. Mostly by virtue of its move of The Voice to the Fall, NBC is the only network to rise, it's up 12% in both week 1 and 2 vs. last season. No valid comparison yet for the CW, unlike recent seasons when they started their shows "early", this season they are starting "late".

The broadcast networks know this season's drop from last season isn't pretty, and their PR operations will be putting out a blizzard of Live+this and Live+that DVR ratings to distract attention from it, but you can look past that to the reality.

While the C+3 Day commercial ratings are all that *really* matter to the business of the broadcast networks, their trends are likely highly correlated with the trend of the Live+Same Day program ratings, and I'd be startled if they showed trends that were much different than the Live+Same Day program ratings.

However, if any network PR department would like to provide me with your season to season C+3 day commercial ratings trends and prove me wrong, I await your emails!

 
  • dantas

    NBC is a GREAT example. Back in 2005, they would’ve canceled ANYTHING that merged below 2.0. And most of their repeats used to get that…

    I wonder if by 2020 we’re going to see shows below 1.0 being renewed (Not talking to you, CW)

  • brian

    Bill — EVENTUALLY (maybe still far off) wont the time shifted data have to be “counted” towards ratings? Many (if not most) 18-35 use a DVR exclusively. Almost no one in the target bracket really watches “live” anymore. Have you heard anything about how advertisers will eventually (that word again) adjust? The trend for TV live viewing is way way down over the last 3, 5, 10 years. It’s no longer an apple to apple comparison. Not even apples to oranges. What happens when its apples to concrete?? Thanks.

  • adaaanski

    Ratings this spring will be U G L Y

  • Tony

    It’s true that record numbers of viewers are using DVRs this year (DVR penetration is rapidly approaching 50%), so the higher than normal drop in Live+Same Day isn’t all that surprising (except for NBC, which is finally starting to recover from the Leno debacle.) It also doesn’t matter. All that matters, as you have mentioned before, is a show’s ratings relative to the network’s average, even if that average keeps dropping every year.

    (Yes, I know it’s C3 that really matters, but we don’t usually get to see that number. And we all know Live+Same Day 18-49 correlates pretty closely anyway.)

  • Karla

    I am well above the 18-35 and I DVR almost everything and do not always have a chance to view it in the supposed window. I rarely watch anything live as I have other things going on and it is not a priority. Also many no longer even view when it is on they watch online and other avenues and I have no idea if that even factors into numbers.

  • Holly

    @brian,

    Not Bill, but…

    EVENTUALLY (maybe still far off) wont the time shifted data have to be “counted” towards ratings?

    First, it is. Ad prices are based on the C3 rating, which is all commercial viewing within 3 days. On the rare occasion we’ve seen the C3 data (available to paying customers but not the public) they have been roughly comparable to the Live+SD numbers we see daily (mostly lower, but close enough).

    Second, you are far, far overestimating DVR usage, but that’s neither here nor there because…

    Live+7 (or whatever) ratings will never be counted as equal to regular viewing. The primary use of the ratings is to set advertising prices, not determine popularity. Advertisers are not interested in how many people watch the show, they’re interested in how many people watch their commercial. And they aren’t going to pay for people who skip over the commercials.

    Until the production companies/networks find some way to monetize the DVR viewers who skip commercials (and no, product placements will not be enough), they won’t be counted the same as live viewers or C3 viewers.

  • Holly

    I’d also note that the L+3 ratings we’ve seen so far don’t change the relative position of the shows much, so it wouldn’t make much difference in decision making.

  • DenverDean

    While NBC may be gaining in Fall with TV, it will certainly decline in Spring for two reasons: one TV’s second cycle will be lower than last year; and the change in judges. It’s just like Millionaire and DWTS. Too much = quick burnout. FOX was smart (to an extent) with AI keeping once cycle. However, they failed because they never expanded to 10 PM to use those two-hour AIs to sample more dramas. Now what are they left with? Bones.

  • MoHasanie

    Well, CBS has the SB, so that should be able to cover up year to year lower weekly ratings average this year.

    NBC is doing pretty well. With The Voice in the spring, NBC could be third.

    Fox is down, but it will still manage to have a better weekly ratings average than the other two.

    ABC is in big trouble. A 2.0 average for premiere week is BAD. Last year I think they averaged 3.0+ in the first week. You can blame DWTS for being down, but there are other factors as well. I remember last year, when NBC went ahead of ABC after the SB, and everyone said that when DWTS would return, ABC’s weekly ratings average would increase, and ABC would go way ahead of NBC. Well, that is certainly not the case anymore.

  • One eye

    Though some shows deserve to die, so our favorite
    Borderline rating shows can be renewed the overall
    Trend down is bad for everyone.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “Bill — EVENTUALLY (maybe still far off) wont the time shifted data have to be “counted” towards ratings? Many (if not most) 18-35 use a DVR exclusively. Almost no one in the target bracket really watches “live” anymore. Have you heard anything about how advertisers will eventually (that word again) adjust? The trend for TV live viewing is way way down over the last 3, 5, 10 years. It’s no longer an apple to apple comparison. Not even apples to oranges. What happens when its apples to concrete?? Thanks.”

    As Holly noted, DVR viewing is already “counted”, the numbers I compared “count” DVR viewing through 3am after airdate, which is about half of all DVR viewing.

    As Holly also noted, what matters is how much people watch the commercials. That’s what C3 measures.

  • TV Gord

    Now that network numbers are growing closer to cable, it’s time for the networks to dramatically change the way they do things.

    I believe it’s time for the broadcast networks to start airing its prime time shows additionally in other dayparts. Why not air them the following day in daytime? Soaps are dying and people are resisting the number of new talk shows. Rebroadcasting last night’s prime time lineup might be the answer. And I know it’s a longshot, but if affiliates can be persuaded to give up three hours of infomercials, another airing in the overnight hours could work, too. I’m sure advertisers would take advantage of the opportunity for their products to be sold more cheaply at other times. Why not? (And that’s not a rhetorical question, because I’m sure many of you will have reasons why not.) ;-)

  • Fake Me Out
  • Fake Me Out

    Sorry, must have forgotten to close the link to Wikipedia in my post above.

  • Babygate

    I think it’s a mistake to dismiss DVR and online viewing. This is clearly the growing trend and the numbers are reflecting that. With the exception of maybe a Sunday night when people just want to relax before the beginning of the week, it is becoming increasingly difficult to schedule tv viewing around your life. It is much easier to DVR the programs and watch at our convenience. For those without DVR, online viewing is also a convenient alternative. Cable competition is also getting stronger and cable is beginning to produce better and better programming. Networks would be wise the get their heads out of the sand and get ready for what’s coming. They can’t keep hoping that the numbers just magically adjust up. Does anyone think that it is a coincidence that CBS gets the higher viewership and they are also the hardest to watch On Demand? You can’t even watch their shows on Hulu and very few on Netflix. That forces live viewership. Just sayin’…

  • Petar Ivanov

    In the end think this will be ok. More shows with lower ratings will survive. But will be harder and harder show to get 5 seasons and syndication.

    ps Great analisis by the way. Great job guys from tv by the numbers.

  • Holly

    @Babygate,

    Please scroll up and read my earlier posts and Bill’s follow up.

  • Babygate

    @ Holly
    Admittedly I know very little about how ratings work, but, if they point is that advertisers just care about how many people watch their ads, I don’t see how DVR viewing helps much in that respect. Before I got a DVR I used to watch about half of my shows on Hulu Plus with limited commercials but sill, a fair number of them, now with my DVR I never watch commercials. I don’t know how that can possibly help the networks with their numbers.

  • Holly

    @Babygate,

    OK, so you think the networks shouldn’t dismiss DVR numbers, but know how DVR numbers could possible help the networks?……

  • CarShark

    I don’t get where all of this audience is going. The cable numbers don’t look any better than last year’s, although you guys only do the Top 100. We don’t see the non-English number with any regularity anymore. Are they seeing growth?

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