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

Categories: 1-Featured,Broadcast TV,TV Business

Written By

October 16th, 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 three weeks of the 2012-13 season, this season continues to be a lot worse for three of the big four broadcast networks.

During the first three weeks of the 2011-12 season, in the advertiser important adults 18-49 Most Current* ratings, ABC is down 12% vs. last season (2.3 vs. 2.6), CBS is down 24% (2.6 vs. 3.4), Fox is down 19% (2.5 vs. 3.1). Mostly by virtue of its move of The Voice to the Fall, NBC is the only network to rise, it's up 15% vs. last season (3.0 vs. 2.6). Season to season comparisons for the CW are going to remain apples/oranges until the end of the season since, unlike recent seasons when they started their shows "early", this season they started "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 these Most Current* 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!


*Most Current ratings are a blend of Live+7 Day DVR viewing and Live+Same Day DVR viewing. Through week 3 they are 2 weeks of Live+Same Day and one week of Live+7 Day. As the season progresses, they will become increasingly weighted towards Live+7 Day ratings.

  • Adrian Warhol

    Do you have any numbers for the CW at all?

  • iggy

    There’s nowhere to go but down.

    Except NBC is going up?

  • Bill Gorman

    “Do you have any numbers for the CW at all?”

    Yes, after three weeks they’re down 37% (0.5 vs. 0.8), but because they held their premiers until well after the start of the season, making anything of that comparison is completely apples/oranges nonsense.

  • Bill Gorman

    “Now that you mention it, I have noticed a lot more press releases about DVR ratings recently. We’ve also seen more of the mythical Live+3 numbers, though not the commercial numbers. I wonder if this will keep up.”

    In past years, once the Live+7 day ratings are available for in-season episodes (as they are now), the PR puffing of Live+3 day ratings has typically tapered off in favor of Live+7 day ratings. I’d expect the same thing once most shows have Live+7 ratings available (it will be a few more weeks before that’s the case for all CW shows).


    NBC has some bright spots. But have some big disaster days : Thursdays & Wendsdays for NBC are less than stellar. The Voice is what Idol is to FOX. If their mega shows goes down. So does the Network.

  • Jared

    FOX’s baseball lineup on Monday did absolutely nothing to pick up steam or gain any new or casual viewers to the network. I do understand the viewing habits have changed with On flix etc but FOX’s problem is the lack of quality series. I almost feel like they didn’t even try this season. I haven’t seen any other show with such lack of promotion before the premiere than I did with Mob Doctor.

  • Douglas from Brazil

    Is likely to NBC finish to 2nd place this season behind CBS?

  • Oliver

    When comparing average ratings, ABC/CBS are at a handicap relative to Fox/NBC. Fox don’t programme the lower-rated 10pm hour and NBC has the unprofitable-but-highly-rated Sunday Night Football to inflate their numbers.

    As such, ABC being in fourth isn’t the disaster that it might otherwise seem. If anything, I think they are in the strongest position heading into the future, since they have a diversified schedule full of younger shows. NBC’s over-reliant on a single show and CBS is full of aging veterans (watched by aging viewers).

    That said, the collapse of DWTS is going to be tricky for them. Will be interesting to see what they decide to do about it.

  • Bill Gorman

    “When comparing average ratings, ABC/CBS are at a handicap relative to Fox/NBC. Fox don’t programme the lower-rated 10pm hour and NBC has the unprofitable-but-highly-rated Sunday Night Football to inflate their numbers.”

    When comparing averages you have a point for Fox.

    When comparing % declines vs. previous seasons you do not.

  • Max Vrany

    @Oliver, I think the two-fold answer to that question is how well Revolution, Go On and the New Normal hold up and how much the additional promotional opportunity that is The Voice translates into higher ratings elsewhere.

    I do think that second place spot is up for grabs. FOX’s scripted content is down and they don’t have NFL overruns and baseball in the spring. Then again, NBC doesn’t have SNF in the spring either.

  • Jason

    I think at some point Nielsen will have to include online, DVR ratings and such. Ok maybe they don’t HAVE too. I still don’t know why online ratings are not included. I see why they don’t like DVR because of commercials but at some point won’t everyone have a DVR? I already have said before that there are far more DVRs out there then what Nielsen says. Although I know some people have one but don’t use it like its for.

    My DVR records 5 at a time so I can’t possiblly watch everything in the same night. Doesn’t mean I don’t like the show but we watch to much tv to get it all watched in ne night. Plus I like being able to have something to watch the next day without waiting till after a show has started so I can ff through the commercials.

    It’s such a pain. I know some good shows get canceled and we end up with crap reality shows because the ratings system is flawed

  • Hugh

    “NBC without The Voice, Football, and Revolution would also be getting crushed” True

    But so would ABC without Modern Family, OAAT and Revenge

  • Honey Badger

    @ Hugh “ “NBC without The Voice, Football, and Revolution would also be getting crushed” True
    But so would ABC without Modern Family, OAAT and Revenge”

    Good point, and very scary for both networks being so reliant on just 3 shows.
    Fox has somewhat of the same problem.
    Except for CBS, if one the networks top couple of shows crash in ratings, the network is in big trouble.

  • Bill Gorman

    “I think at some point Nielsen will have to include online, DVR ratings and such.”

    Nielsen has measured and reported DVR viewing since Jan, 2006.

    All the ratings you see on our site include DVR viewing.

  • Belinda

    CBS will not doubt be number one this TV season as usual – as long as the NCIS and NCIS LA juggernaut keeps going and holding up their ratings line, I think CBS has less to worry about than most of the other networks – I’m not sure FOX and NBC knows what they’re suppose to be doing with the way they cancel shows left and right…ABC at least has a steady stream of decently enough shows that can keep going long enough to tide things over.

  • DraicKin

    For me before it’s not simply a question of DVR,online or any other, the problem is the programming.
    CBS seems to have only countless crime drama/police procedural and when you’re not a big fan for this type of show they’re all look alike.
    FOX, it’s just that for me FOX is American Idol/X-Factor/Trash tv , in other words boring!
    ABC still give the impression of being a “women network” but that’s slowly beginning to change for me. ABC shouldn’t try to have “men’s shows” but shows with a more broader appeal instead.

    I’m not saying that they’re simply JUST that but it’s a general impression.
    PVR is pointless if there’s no interesting shows to PVR in the first place.

  • Croq

    @MoHasanie: “Fox is way down as well, but Idol in the spring will help it unless Idol has huge falls.”
    I think Idol will continue to falter. While they still likely will get enough ratings to stay around, it will continue its fall to being a distant memory for all of us. Mariah, Nikki, and Keith won’t (I think) be able to bump the numbers any, though you have to wonder if bringing in Keith Urban isn’t sort of Idol’s way of saying, “Look, we can have a country singer on our panel too!” Keith was a coach/judge on The Voice AU, which I watched and felt he was the weakest of the coaches.

    I suspect Idol will get decent numbers initially, though still down year to year. People will tune in to see Mariah and Nikki clash. Viewership will probably drop sharply after that I think.

  • Riff Rafferty

    I’m not surprised many of these sitcoms and procedurals have a much higher DVR rating. I love Nashville this year; it’s definitely one of the better shows on network TV. After seeing a few episodes, I’m surprised The Mindy Project got picked up. Working overtime at DISH most days while not getting paid for it, I use my Hopper DVR everyday to skip over the commercials and screw advertisers out of their hard-earned money. It makes screwing them so much easier too with SpamTime Anytime. I don’t have to set reminders for shows like Made in Jersey, they’re cancelled automatically. Sometimes I like to take my commercial-skipping Hopper DVR and bash my DISH boss’ head in for making me work this crappy job at this third-rate satellite provider for low wages and zero benefits. Personally I’m excited for baseball to be over so I can not see new episodes of The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Mad Men or Hell on Wheels since DISH is too cheap to pay for AMC.

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