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!

  • Charles

    The real (and only) issue is that (as mentioned) people have other options and the Neilsens are antiquated. It really is a shame that network TV still hasn’t grown with the times to keep up with their audience.

    I don’t have a DVR but everyone I know that does has ALWAYS gave me the “I have it on DVR but haven’t watched it yet” excuse on a regular basis.

    And how’s this for a sense of irony? Networks cancel shows for low ratings mainly based on 18-49 ad revenue, yet most people watching on DVR skip the commercials thereby hurting that very ad revenue.

    Add in that the quick hooks that shows get because of this cause many not to get too invested in shows for fear of cancellation.

    It’s a never ending cycle.

  • TomJH


    DVR and online viewing is dismissed because people who do it don’t watch the commercials. It’s that simple. Broadcast TV is not free, you pay for it by watching commercials.

  • Doug

    If I were CBS, I’d be in a bit of a panic right now – their line-up, drama heavy, depends on old, declining hits. Not a good position to be in.

    Fox is typically all over the place, and this fall is no exception.

    NBC is doing well. Color me surprised – I didn’t think that The Voice would do so well.

    ABC’s problem is DWTS. It takes up 6 hours of real estate, and is down 35% over last fall. Wednesday is fine, Friday is fine and Sundays are fine – solid nights with newish hits. Their challenge is to rebuilt Mondays and Tuesdays, and find something to pair with GA on Thursdays. They have a lot in the mid-season cupboard, so I’ll reserve judgement for now.

    The interesting part will be to see where the bottom lies. While these percentage declines look big, in actual terms, they’re not monstrous. I think that ABC, for instance, could move from a 2.0 to a 2.5 with one or two new hits, whereas, 10 years ago, moving from a 3.0 to a 4.2 was a much more difficult prospect. I think that the CW is near the bottom (for them) – it literally can’t get much worse than the 0.4 that Gossip Girl notched for its premiere. It’s not a great position to be in, but the bleeding has probably stopped because there’s not that much blood left. As for the rest, who knows? I’m betting a bottom is in the mid 1 range – the question being if the networks can make money at that level.

  • Tihomir

    And what about the CW? What happens with it when it starts to get 200 000 viewership on its shows and 0.1 ratings?

  • Ralph Hahn

    I would wait until the World Series is over before making any judgments.

  • Fed

    Ban DVRs! Ban DVRs! Ban DVRs! TVs last chance.

  • Erin

    your right,most people are not in the room. Have you ever noticed how obnoxiously loud commercials are compared to content now? It’s to account for people not being in front of the TV.

  • MoHasanie


    Well, people will just watch online. I wonder what people did back in the past before DVR’s and the convenience of the internet, when they really wanted to watch two shows aired against each other or if they missed an episode of a show?

  • jT

    “I wonder what people did back in the past before DVR’s and the convenience of the internet, when they really wanted to watch two shows aired against each other or if they missed an episode of a show?”

    You picked a show for a season and you rolled with it.

  • eridapo

    @ TomJH

    Not according to Nielsen. Nielsen still says that half the people who DVR a program watch commercials.


    If we are too quick to dismiss these claims by Nielsen on DVR commercial viewing, why then give credence to the reported ratings.

  • MoHasanie


    Must have been tough, especially since there were some excellent shows airing against each other. Couldn’t you record it on a tape or something?

  • Bill Gorman

    @Ralph Hahn, Why?

  • Bill Gorman

    @Doug, broadcast TV business models have weathered 30 years of declines, I don’t see a cliff in site in the near future.

  • Paul

    There has to be a turning point somewhere along the line because there will always be someone watching the networks.

  • Clarkwood

    @MoHassanie, no you couldn’t record it on tape. Unless you did so with another tv. When you recorded on tape it was whatever the tv was tuned on to. So, if you pressed record then started watching your show and then switched to say ESPN or the game to catch the score and then switched back, when you watched the tape back you would see just what you saw, ESPN/sports game and all.

    BTW, back then there were way less channels and the other channels didn’t have much on anyways. So, whereas these days I have not 2 but more like 3-5 shows I want to watch airing @ the same time, back then enough of the viewers would be able to watch the main channels. The viewership was concentrated so the numbers were higher.

    BTW, I’m an ’85 baby and didn’t start watching tv until around ’95, so not that old @ all.

  • Ultima

    However, they failed because they never expanded to 10 PM to use those two-hour AIs to sample more dramas


    Classifying as Idol-era FOX as a failure is beyond ridiculous. They were the #1 network in Adults 18-49 for EIGHT STRAIGHT YEARS!

    Even if you ignore the other network’s 10pm hours, FOX still easily wins six of those years (so those people can shut up).

    Also, for a significant portion of Idol’s run, it was not a two-hour a night show! That is a very recent development that only happened this past spring.

    FOX promoted plenty of dramas out of hour-long episodes of Idol (and non-dramas out of the 30-min results shows). In fact, since expanding the performance show, they moved the results show from 9pm to 8pm, so they could continue to do so.

  • Simon

    16,000 people who are predisposed to watch TV and fill in a form are A not doing what they were asked to do, and control what the Network cancels.

    As for banning DVR’s that have OPTIONAL HOP features or tying someone down to a chair in an effort to force them to watch ADD’s is INSANE! All they will do is what everyone else in the world is doing, watch online.

    Connected Apple TV’s are on their way, and even with the best efforts being made to stop them, you can not stop technology. It is and will always be the game changer.

  • Simon

    Bill Gorman

    We’ve already gone over the cliff. Now it’s all about how we land.

  • Ultima

    @Ralph Hahn
    I would wait until the World Series is over before making any judgments.

    Last year, FOX had four primetime ALCS games and a seven game World Series. There’s a very high probability that their MLB postseason ratings will be down from last season.

  • steve

    If I were one of the networks I would be paying whatever it took to broadcast the NFL every night of the week – as that is the only thing that gets people to watch live – that and other big events. World series, NBA Finals, NCAA basketball and NCAA football championships.

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