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!

 
  • Ultima

    @steve
    If I were one of the networks I would be paying whatever it took to broadcast the NFL every night of the week

    FOX, CBS and NBC currently pay $2.85 BILLION per year, just to broadcast games on Sunday.

    Also, the NFL is unlikely to expand the number of nights that games air. Sunday ratings are significantly higher than Monday and Thursday (and there’s also issues with Friday/Saturday games due to high school and college football). If the NFL expands, the much more likely scenario is increasing the regular season from 16 to 18 games.

  • Clarkwood

    Hey, I got it all figured out.

    The advertisers need to make commercials something we actually want to watch.
    Maybe, 1 sponsor for each break or even the whole show. So we get a 3 minute y/t like spot or an 9 or 18min “show”.
    We also are tired of watching the same commercial over and over again. I know that y/t users upload stuff like crazy and are really innovative. I doubt they’d be that expensive. Hire them as part of your team. Create lots and lots of “events” & “shows”. So, what if a lot of them are crappy, not done well, thought out etc. So, what, people will till watch, they do so on y/t all th time.
    I personally retain product brands a lot easier when not flooded with 10 different products every commercial break and a longer time means my focus is on the product long enough to get acquainted with it.

    I know the idea is that to make a commercial it costs a lot so hundreds/thousands of airings lowers the cost to make it profitable for those who respond to the ad to buy the product. So, longer, non repeating ads could be very expensive. But, I’m sure that it can’t cost that much to hire some y/ters and maybe some out of work non screen comedians. There could even be a Temp type hiring system. You could use these guys to eventually write etc for tv shows.

    And hey some companies could just air a 3min viral “cat” video and plug their brand’s logo. Even claim it’s eating the stuff near the end.

  • MoHasanie

    @Clarkwood

    That would suck if you like two shows, but they’re on at the same time.
    btw, did sports get lower ratings in the past than it does today? Like if someone watched a TV show, but it aired against live sports, they would still want to watch the TV show since they can’t watch it later. But today, you can just watch the TV show anytime you want, and you’d be much more interested in watching sports live.

    @Simon

    Apple TV’s are not going to happen. The TV industry is not going to just allow Apple to make money of them. They’ve already seen what happened to the music industry thanks to Apple, and they certainly don’t want the same thing happening to TV, cause it will just make them lose money.

  • Doug

    And I don’t think that the networks make money on football. They like to have it because it’s a useful promotional platform, but it’s a wash otherwise. Take Monday Night Football on ABC – losing it wasn’t that huge of a deal because they still had, at that time, a number of series that did similar numbers. In fact, ABC didn’t take that much of a hit when DWTS stepped it – ratings were close. Of course, ABC would probably love to have a football package now, but so long as it’s under the same corporate umbrella as ESPN, that will never happen.

    @ Bill – I wouldn’t be too certain about the cliff scenario. While there is still a gap between cable and broadcast, it’s not that big anymore, and a number of cable series are capable of winning their timeslots. The justification for higher ad rates for broadcast is disappearing (unless they’re based on the fact that broadcast reaches a slice of viewers who don’t have cable). Broadcast will have an advantage so long as they have a few series that still draw those huge audiences (cable can’t replicate The Voice, for example, except in very limited doses), but the ratings for those top series have come down dramatically in the past 4 or 5 seasons. Something will clearly have to change, and probably within the next 5 years or so. We’ve already seen some of those changes – leaning on reality series that are cheap to produce. The easiest fruit to cut costs is what they’ve been doing on Saturday and increasingly Friday – repeats. I’d bet that the 10pm hour is the next to go.

  • babyboomer50

    @clarkwood
    Yes, before the networks switched from analog to digital you could use your VCR to record one channel and you could watch another. Back in the 80’s, there were several days when I had to pick from 3 shows at the same time… which one I’d watch, which one I’d record, and which one I’d skip. That’s not an issue these days…now I have trouble finding three shows I want to watch all night long.

  • John_M


    If I were one of the networks I would be paying whatever it took to broadcast the NFL every night of the week

    Not every night of the week – I don’t think ‘wednesdays’ are feasible – unless you had a bye before and after, but I’ve said earlier I could see the NFL expanding its schedule in the future.

    I think an 18 week season BUT STILL only playing 16 games would be ameablle to the players – and it gives the league wiggle room to maybe not force a team to play on Tuesday and then Sunday. Saturday nights are iffy during college football season, but once thanksgiving hits, the NFL could do a half season at Saturday nights. Friday nights would be pointless in my mind.

    I expect the NFL to expand beyond Thursday, using the NFL network as the launching test. Thursday Night is now a success – so sell it to a network (ABC or TNT maybe) – and launch ‘Tuesday Night football’ slowly like they did with Thursday Night football.

    Does the NFL risk saturation? Sure – of course it does – but not before the inevitable (in my mind) end of the NFL due to the number of deaths

  • Holly

    A bit late coming back but…

    Yes, the networks/production companies do need to find a way to finance shows to make up for lost advertising revenue due to DVRs, and they are trying. One way cable has been doing this for years is carriage fees, or fees the cable/satellite companies pay for each subscriber getting a channel or set of channels. The reason for the fights with various carriers and blackouts is that the broadcast networks are wanting carriage fees now as well. Product placements have increased (some better done than others) but they are necessarily limited in number and are difficult to include in some shows. There was an experiment during Fringe’s first year to make it DVR proof by having short (90-second) commercial breaks and charging more per commercial. Unfortunately, the increase in price wasn’t enough to off-set the lower inventory. So there are efforts, but it’s more difficult then many seem to think.

  • Simon

    @MoHassanie

    Apple TV’s have already been made. Apple just won a patent to load into their TVs an add hoping device. They also have Retina displays that will make HDTV look blurred.

    Even if the industry tries to block Apple TV’s, which by the way is ILEGAL and goes against free trade not to mention it suggests our industry is trying to monopolize content, the rest of world is not going to do that. Also an Apple dollar is worth more than an actual dollar.

    Also Dish and Direct TV have NO PROBLEM with the make of your TV. Oh! And if Mitt Romney gets in, I would by shares in Dish and Direct TV because I think they will merge.

  • MoHasanie

    @Holly

    What do you mean by “the increase in price wasn’t enough to off-set the lower inventory” ? Do you mean, they had fewer adverts in the whole hour, but still made less money?

  • Michael

    I don’t understand why networks don’t demand that the FF button be disabled on a DVR. Wouldn’t it solve the problem if viewers were “forced” to watch the commercials one way or the other? On Demand often disables the fast-forward function.

  • Dinaminjo

    You mean there is a chance that networks are going to get less money for their shows, cut their budgets and overpaid salaries of “beauty faces” that think acting is “the center of the world”..

    No..
    Nevah!!

    OFC I’m over the top with this but it isn’t far from the truth.
    The world today is much more competitive than it was years ago..

    If you want to advertise in 2012 and beyond you have to look beyond the TV.
    If you are a network making money of that person you have to be aware of it.

    I think they are slowly, that’s why we are seeing shows renewed when they don’t seem to have much future. There is no more magic numbers that a show must obtain to live.

    Now there is a price of the show and the price of advertising. Does that mean that ratings are irrelevant.
    No. But they are only half the story. Terra Nova did better than most new shows today but it was expensive. Ben & Kate, Mindy, The New Normal don’t cost much akka they don’t need huge ratings to stay afloat.

    What does that mean in the future?!

    That means less seasons in the future with less ratings but also much lower budgets. Very few shows are going to make it past 88.
    It will be normal to replace a 4 season show with a rookie because you are not going to risk a huge drop.

    In some ways this is bad because the networks are going to struggle to find balance between quality and money at least for a while but it is also good because good shows won’t get cancelled after a few episodes just because.

    Should we be worried as viewers?!
    Again no. We have the most innovative world in history just waiting to grab our attention..

  • John_M

    Even if the industry tries to block Apple TV’s, which by the way is ILEGAL and goes against free trade not to mention it

    There are legal ways to block everything. If free trade were truly free, we’d have more ‘cable’ options in our areas than just one.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “The justification for higher ad rates for broadcast is disappearing (unless they’re based on the fact that broadcast reaches a slice of viewers who don’t have cable)”

    The gap in the relative per ratings point ad price between cable and broadcast has been a point of some interest to me. The only explanation I have heard that is plausible (although I never saw any quantitative backup) was that folks who watch a lot of cable are big TV viewers overall and hence are easily (and therefore cheaply) reached. Whereas, there is a segment of the broadcast TV viewing audience that watches very little TV, and are otherwise unreachable via TV.

    I’m still inclined to believe in inertia. Broadcast costs more per ratings point because that’s always the way it’s been.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “I don’t understand why networks don’t demand that the FF button be disabled on a DVR. Wouldn’t it solve the problem if viewers were “forced” to watch the commercials one way or the other? “

    I think they’d try to do it if they thought they could, but I don’t think they have the power over the cable companies to make that play (except maybe at Comcast, and then it would be a battle).

  • Freddy Arrow

    @Michael

    “I don’t understand why networks don’t demand that the FF button be disabled on a DVR. Wouldn’t it solve the problem if viewers were “forced” to watch the commercials one way or the other? On Demand often disables the fast-forward function.”

    They do. Just like I demand that each millionaire in the world send me a thousand dollars.

  • Neil

    Maybe most TV watching Americans’ think the world will end on December 21 and there is no point watching shows that will be permanently cancelled.

  • Ultima

    @Doug
    And I don’t think that the networks make money on football.

    Sure they do. At the start of the current contract, the combined license fee was roughly equivalent to the combined ad revenue; however, the license fee remains fixed while the ad rates will continue to soar over the next decade.

  • Dean_W

    Why NBC canceled Law & Order and E.R. Now they should be very useful for the network.

  • tjw

    I think the pretty clear answer here is for the networks to start charging higher carriage fees. There’s no reason for them not to. If you read the ESPN oral history “These Guys Have All the Fun,” the ESPN executives make clear that they knew they’d have a huge advantage as soon as they started the double revenue stream (carriage and ads). I expect to see a lot of disputes between the networks and cable companies in the coming years.

  • Temis

    @Clarkwood, careful there. If advertisers could figure out how to make ads people would want to watch, they’d just show ads and no shows. The shows exist for one reason only, to get people to watch ads.

    But you may be describing the future of “free” (it’s never really been free) TV: the product placements take over and become the whole reason behind the show. It’s nothing but ads. DVRs become moot.

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