New Nielsen ratings analyzed by AdAge present a bleak picture of network TV’s declining audience. Faced with heated competition for viewers from streaming video services, broadcast C3 ratings plummeted 11% year over year during fourth quarter 2018 as the four major networks drew an average primetime audience of only 7.02 million adults aged 18-49. Tracking the trend back to 2016 shows the latest numbers are no fluke. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox combined have seen more than one quarter (27%) of their advertiser-coveted viewers disappear.
Crunching the numbers, Ad Age writer Anthony Crupi calculates the combined rating point delivery at the Big Four networks in the 18-49 demo to be a 5.4, down from 6.1 during 2017. “Over a two-year span, some 2.6 million members of the demo have dematerialized, a number which reflects the loss of more than two whole ratings points (2.1),” Crupi writes.
The currency which TV is bought and sold on, Nielsen’s C3 metric combines average commercial ratings with three days of time-shifted viewing.
Offering further evidence of the audience exodus, Ad Age notes that only two episodes of scripted TV shows have averaged a 3.0 rating or better in their regular time slots in the current season to date. Flash back two years ago and 29 scripted shows pulled a 3.0 or better, and 54 reached that mark in the 2014-15 season.
Yet shrinking rating points haven’t negated the principle of supply and demand when it comes to TV advertising. Ad sales revenues at the Big Four nets increased 3.2% to $5.21 billion in Q4, according to MoffettNathanson, even as ratings fell 11%.
In other disconcerting news for the TV industry, Kagan now estimates the segment of broadband homes without a traditional cable TV subscription will comprise nearly one-third of U.S. households in the next five years. Broadband-only households are set to grow from 23.3 million in 2018 to 40.8 million by 2023. Fueling the chord-cutting are over-the-top (OTT) streaming services. “The vast majority of streaming services offer free trial periods, effectively allowing consumers to shop around while bypassing hardware hassles associated with legacy video distribution,” Tony Lenoir, senior Kagan research analyst said. “This coupled with the fact that streaming services are typically screen-agnostic and seamlessly portable, offer individual, customized consumption for customers.”