TV's Pandemic Disruption: Fewer Prime-Time Episodes, Lower Linear TV Ratings

For prime-time linear TV this year, absence has not made the heart grow fonder.

Heading into the upfront selling season, there have been fewer scripted prime-time broadcast TV episodes through March, as well as continued overall declining prime-time TV ratings.

Roughly eight to nine episodes have aired among the top 20 prime-time scripted entertainment shows. A year ago at this time, 17-18 episodes of big scripted prime-time shows had run.

Compounding this gap, only seven non-sports prime-time series posted 10 million or more Nielsen-measured viewers when looking at live program-plus-seven days of time-shifted viewing (L7) from September 21 through March 28 compared to a year ago, when the total was 14.

The top-rated scripted series for the year-to-date is CBS’ “The Equalizer,” which debuted after the Super Bowl, averaging 13.8 million (five episodes).

CBS’ “NCIS” is next at 12.9 million (nine episodes), followed by CBS’ “60 Minutes” at 11.3 million (23 episodes); CBS’ “FBI” with 11.1 million (nine episodes) and NBC’s “Chicago Fire,” at 10.4 million (9 episodes). CBS’s “Blue Bloods” came in at 10.2 million (nine episodes), followed by Fox’s “911,” with 10.1 million (eight episodes).

Bernstein Research says first-quarter 2021 broadcast prime-time ratings among 18-49 viewers are down 24% when it comes to Nielsen live program- plus-same-day viewing. This follows a 20% decline in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Both periods are down sharply from 2019, when there was an 8% drop in the fourth quarter, and the first quarter of 2020, when there was an 11% decline.

Total viewing declines have steepened overall. Looking at all broadcast, cable and kids cable programming, live and same-day viewing is down 22% in the first quarter of 2021. A year before, in the first quarter of 2020, there was a 13% drop.

A year ago, the top ten shows, using the Nielsen L7 measure, were: “NCIS,” with 15.1 million viewers, followed by “FBI,” at 12.3 million; “Blue Bloods,” 11.8 million; “Chicago Fire,” 11.6 million; NBC’s “This Is Us,” 11.5 million; “Young Sheldon,” 11.3 million; “Chicago PD,” 11.1 million; “Chicago Med,” 11.1 million; Fox’s “The Masked Singer,” 10.8 million; and ABC’s “The Good Doctor,” 10.7 million.

1 comment about "TV's Pandemic Disruption: Fewer Prime-Time Episodes, Lower Linear TV Ratings".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 8, 2021 at 2:15 p.m.

    We keep belaboring this rating fragmentation thing to death. Yes, average minute ratings per channel are down---mainly because there is intense competition from many channels---including streaming venues ---for audiences. This isn't going away, and it applies within the streaming universe as well as for "linear TV". There was a time when Netflix  commanded a 75% or greater share of total streaming time, but as competitors siphoned off viewing  its share has dropped steadily and now stands around 25-30%. As streaming penetration hits the 80% mark a ceiling on its reach will develop---probably around 85%  at which point we will have seven to eight serious programmers competing witn Netflixand scores of smaller fry. There's only so much content that an average streamer will be willing to consume daily so audience fragmentation of the sort we have been seeing in "linear TV" will soon be a major problem for streaming programmers as well. Get used to it.

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