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!

  • DW

    ratings are down. people have more choice now. it happens.

  • Eridapo

    @ were123

    Hate to break it to you, but that sentence with the red font tells you to expect adjustment for the CBS lineup due to Football. CBS numbers include Football numbers in Houston

  • Barbie

    The thing is, are they tough to handle the rating falls, or is everything getting canceled this season? o_O

  • Eridapo

    Wrong thread …. LOL

  • Raykov

    I have a question. Do the advertisers pay for rating or for relative rating? I mean does the number matter or they will pay the same even if the numbers are down as long as the show still wins the timeslot or sth?

  • Babygate


    I didn’t explain myself correctly. Networks shouldn’t dismiss DVR numbers as a detrimental factor to growth. In other words, as a viewer, I love my DVR because I get to skip commercials, but as a network executive I would hate them because it allows people to skip live viewing and thus skip commercials which leads to diminished exposure to and support for their advertising revenue.

  • Simon

    I have been writing and producing content for over 12 years, here in LA and in London. MI5, Waking the Dead and Criminal Minds are some of the shows I have worked on.

    The reason I moved here was to learn to produce what I wrote because it was clear to me, ten years ago that there was a massive shift in the music industry, that was obviously going to effect the TV industry. And it’s clear to us all that content is king, but very soon, Google may be be King Kong. That’s as good news as it is bad.

    This year and next year, I believe, we will see the dam break for Networks. International sales and global ad revenue are collapsing, due in part to the Euro crisis. For the first time Europe will have a direct impact on broadcast here in the US. In a good way and a bad way. We are buying and reformatting shows such as Homeland or the Killing and making great revenue from them.

    One way out for content makers here in the US is Cable. Actors and writers no longer look down at Cable. QUite the opposite. Which is why Cable shows are matching network shows and in some cases getting a bigger audience.

    The really big problem we have right now is the rating system. DVR does not matter to Ad exec’s because their kids don’t watch them. If we do not work to change the rating system, many, many jobs in the TV industry will be lost. And I’m not talking about above line people. I’m talking about the crews who have been making what we write, look amazing.

  • Parker

    @Fake Me Out

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but that 3.9 is not a demo number it was the household rating. But that year in ’05 on Fridays, 8 Simple Rules was averaging a high 1 low 2 demo rating. That would be a hit today on Friday. So your comparison valid, just not as severe.

  • Bob

    Most people use commerical breaks to get someting to eat, go to the restroom, step out for a smoke or grab a beer or all of the above. I think it is funny that they think people are watching commericals even live.

  • brian

    Holly/Bill — I am not disagreeing with anything you say. But simply pointing out we are rapidly approaching a point in time where the number of people who watch the commercials is well less than “x” (1/2, 3/4, any other number) % of those watching the shows. Person “A” (18-35) DVRs everything. Only watches in time shifted format. Rarely watches commercials. This is the “trend.” Person “B” (35+) maybe watches more “live.” In another 3-5 years, the number of actual “live viewing” will be even less than today. EVENTUALLY either its going to be product placement or commercials on a roll screen at the bottom. The point is comparing the % decline in live TV is a fruitless exercise. Its only going to keep declining. It cannot “increase.”

  • Eridapo

    Everyone on this sits knocks DVR viewing because people are skipping commercials. Unfortunately, Nielsen, the same site whose data is used to pass judgement, says that half the people who DVR a program watch the commercials.

    Nielson has also made it clear that for the reported DVR ratings when people skip commercials the show gets penalized. If all the commercials are skipped, the show gets no ratings credit in the DVR Nielsen reports. If half the commercials are skipped, the show only gets half the ratings credit.

  • Eridapo

    editing my previous comment…

    “sits” should be “site”

  • Robert Seidman

    everyone should also remember that the season-to-date year over year broadcast comparisons use “Most Current” ratings, which ultimately include the Live+7 data. Right now they don’t include the L7 data for the first two weeks of the season because it’s not available yet – next week there will be one week of L7 and two weeks of L+SD but five months from now there will be ~20 weeks of L7 and 2 weeks of L+SD.

    I won’t completely dismiss the value of the L7 comparisons once available. “We can’t perform as well when decreasing numbers watch live and increasing numbers watch on DVR/online/wait for Netfix & Amazon etc” is true (and painful!) for the networks no matter what.

    But “way fewer people are watching our stuff period” is an even worse problem to have. If I’m head of programming and the L+SD comparisons are down 25% but the L7 comparisons are flat/down single digits, I’m not happy about it but all I can really do is shrug. If L+SD is down 25% AND the L7 ratings are down 25% too, I’m still not happy about it, but I’m also very worried about my job.

  • Dan

    With more people watching cable shows and DVRing shows and getting them online, less people watch TV at night as opposed to in the past where they would stay home and watch TV.

  • jT

    This will eventually force major networks to ban DVRs from skipping commercials all together.

  • tv#1

    The way I see it this will just keep happening every year. A number of years down the road cable and network TV will be achieving the same ratings. So network TV is either going to have to accept that (and try to make money that way) or just give up and go out of business. I hope it isn’t the second option, because I like network TV (overall). Yeah, I get sick of the reality shows and the procedurals, but there are some good shows on network TV. You just got to pay attention and give them some time.

  • CrimTV

    @Fake Me Out

    WOW! Those types of ratings on Fridays! I guess once DVR is factored in ratings are very high nowadays, but we all know that doesn’t make a difference!

  • MoHasanie


    Thanks for clarifying that! I was a little shocked reading that a show that could get a 3.9 on a Friday would still be cancelled!

  • a p garcia

    NBC may be doing with the voice what ABC did with DWTS and putting it on most nights of the week in addition to 2 or more cycles per TV season. Some programs are so bad that one wonders how they ever made to the air and deserve to be cancelled ASAP. Other programs have haters among their network and Last Resort is a prime example.

  • Clarkwood

    @ Babygate “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’…”

    Just an FYI, type any CBS show into google and you will find quite a few sites that update within hours of the east coast airing any CBS show (for that matter, All Network and also for sure TNT, USA, SHO, HBO etc) each and every episode, they don’t host the show like Hulu etc but they post multiple links to 3rd party sites. Now, I don’t get any ads b/c I use adblock and many other filters but I’m sure quite a few people do see the b4 press play ad and the side ads etc.

    It’s all free and very easy to use. I don’t own a tv and the only thing I miss out on is sports and if my circle of friends wants to comment live about a show.

    Heck, there are even a few ways to watch live tv. But those are mostly a scam and highly illegal and as such the ones that do exist often get shut down quickly. Which, IMO, is just wrong. I am not willing to spend money on a tv subscription but I would so be willing to watch sports live. No one seems to be recording those for later viewing. I watched the 2012 Superbowl on NBC commercials and all. Advertisers should love it. There is no DVR. So you can’t pause and catch up. Which also means in order to not miss any action you have to keep the volume up loud enough. This goes for non sports games as well.

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