American network ratings drop: are people watching less TV?

Declines at ABC, Fox, Univision and the CW were all double-digit, the Nielsen Company said

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Viewership at each of the six largest broadcast networks was down last week compared to the same week a year ago. But given how television is changing, it’s hard to say whether that means viewers are rejecting the programming choices.

Declines at ABC, Fox, Univision and the CW were all double-digit, the Nielsen Company said. NBC was down 6 percent and CBS, off 1 percent, was relatively flat.


Nielsen’s measurement, however, reflected people who watched programs the same night they aired.

That doesn’t take into account people who recorded shows to watch at a later date, people who watched on demand or those who streamed episodes onto their devices.

“Logically, if you have an opportunity to watch a show on your schedule as opposed to the network’s schedule, you’re going to watch it on your schedule,” said Brad Adgate, an analyst for Horizon Media.

“The opportunities to do that continue to expand.”

Some new shows, like NBC’s “Blindspot,” are obvious new successes. Others - think the premiere of NBC’s comedy “Truth Be Told” last week - have a pretty clear negative verdict already. For many programs, networks will need more information from more sources before they know whether or not they made a good investment.

Increasingly, the weekly list of Nielsen’s top programs is weighted toward programming that rewards live viewing.

Twelve of Nielsen’s 20 most-viewed programs last week were either live sports, news or competition programs like “The Voice.” Two others - “Empire” and “The Walking Dead” - are the type of water-cooler shows that fans are anxious to see as quickly as they can.

For the week in prime time, CBS averaged 10.4 million viewers and NBC had 8.4 million. ABC had 6.1 million, a drop of 23 percent primarily because its Saturday night college football game wasn’t nearly as popular as last year’s. Fox had 4.2 million, Univision had 2.1 million, the CW had 1.53 million, Telemundo had 1.51 million and ION Television had 1.1 million.

Buoyed by postseason baseball, TBS led cable networks with an average prime-time viewership of 5.14 million, ESPN had 3.1 million, CNN had 2.12 million, the Disney Channel had 1.64 million and Fox News Channel had 1.56 million.

NBC and ABC were in a virtual dead heat in the evening news ratings, the closest ABC has been since Lester Holt took over as the full-time NBC “Nightly News” anchor. NBC’s newscast averaged 7.84 million viewers, ABC’s “World News Tonight” had 7.81 million and the “CBS Evening News” had 6.6 million.

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