Reality TV Grabs Most Viewers, Sports Nabs 20%

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Over the past five years, sports programming has climbed sharply among U.S. viewers -- with reality TV programming maintaining its position at the most dominant TV genre. 

A report from The Nielsen Company says in the 2010-2011 season, sports programming commanded 20% of the 187 million U.S. viewers ages 2 years and older. This is up from 19.4% the year before, and 9.4% and 8.1% in the two preceding years.

Reality television still commands the biggest share of U.S. TV viewing -- now at 56.4% for the 2010-2011 season. This is up from 47.9% the year before. The high spot for reality came in the 2007-2008 season, where it had a 77.3% share of all U.S. TV viewing. The year before it had a 68.3% share.

Scripted drama TV shows are in second place behind reality, accounting for 23.6% of U.S. TV viewing in 2010-2011 -- down from 32.7% in 2009-2010 and 32.8% in 2008-2009 season. During the last decade, scripted dramas were at their lowest point in the 2007-2008 season (14.6%) and the 2002-2003 season (11.0%). Their highest was in the 2005-2006 season, accounting for 42.8% of the total audience.

At the beginning of the decade, in the 2001-2002 season, things were very different. Reality accounted for 22.4% share -- with the highest viewing going to sitcom TV viewing at around 38.9%. Dramas were next at 29.5%.

Comedies virtually disappeared in the coming years -- with broadcast TV network cutting back and cable networks virtually offering up even less original comedy shows. Comedies declined to a 9.2% share in the 2003-2004 season, and went down to a 7.4% share in the 2008-2009 year.

Nielsen says over the past 10 years there has been a rise in DVR, online streaming, digital cable, video on-demand and other programming options. The audience size for broadcast prime time remains strong at just shy of 200 million viewers.

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