New TV Season, Same Sinking Viewing Numbers

The first full month of the new 2018-2019 TV season showed some old, troubling results: double-digit percentage ratings declines for linear TV networks.

Broadcast and cable TV networks posted a 11% fall in October to average a collective 21.5 million 18-49 prime-time viewers in the Nielsen C3 ratings metric, according to MoffettNathanson Research. Nielsen C3 ratings are average commercial minute ratings plus three days of time-shifted viewing.

Broadcast TV networks dropped 12% to 7.8 million prime time 18-49 viewers; cable TV networks sank 11% to 13.7 million.

Although advertisers are increasingly looking at other metric promises, Nielsen C3 rating guarantees (as well as C7 ratings) are still important measures for TV marketers and networks, according to analysts.

Total day viewership posted similar declining results: Broadcast TV networks were down 10% to 4.1 million 18-49 viewers, while cable networks were 13% lower to 7.8 million.

Looking at Nielsen analysis, media analyst Michael Nathanson points to continued lower Nielsen PUT levels -- People Using Television -- for younger viewers (viewers age 2-11, 12-17, and 18-24) -- down anywhere from 10% to 20% over the last year and a half. At the same time, older TV viewers 55+ have seen slight declines, of 2% to 5% over that time period.

Fox was the only broadcast TV network to see higher prime-time TV ratings -- largely due to its addition of NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” this season. It was up 21% to average 2.94 million 18-49 viewers.

On the flip side, CBS -- which had the NFL’s “TNF” a year ago for the first half of the season -- was down 38% to 1.36 million. For October, NBC lost 13% to 2.38 million; ABC, 18% lower to 1.33 million.

Only two of the top 25 cable networks posted positive results -- MTV, 18,000 higher in total day 18-49 viewers; and AMC, growing 4,000 18-49 total day 18-49 viewers.

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