Live Programs Steepen Same-Day Ratings Declines

TV networks' live TV program/same-day viewing metrics this season have witnessed ever more declines -- especially for the key 18-49 demographic.

Prime-time first-quarter 2021 18-49 viewing witnessed a 24% drop -- with broadcast TV networks down 26% and cable TV networks falling 22%, according to Bernstein Research, via Nielsen analysis.

This compares with a 13% drop a year ago in the first quarter of 2020 -- just before the pandemic took hold. Broadcast networks were down 11%, while cable TV networks declined 14%.

Some analysts still view live TV program/same-day viewing as an important measure in the broader industry context, even with a loss of popularity for TV marketers.

“We believe the U.S. television industry is entering a period of prolonged structural decline, caused by a migration of viewers from ad-supported platforms to non-ad supported or less ad-supported platforms,” writes Todd Juenger, media analyst at Bernstein Research.



Kids TV networks are worse off. For total day, viewing for persons age 2-11 was down 37% in the first quarter of 2021, widening the loss of a year ago when it was 23% for Q1 2020. “The trend has accelerated as we anniversary the early months of the pandemic,” said Juenger.

Over the past year, bigger losses have been recorded, especially for broadcast prime-time 18-49 viewers: a 11% drop (first-quarter 2020); 17% (second quarter); 29% (third quarter); and 20% (fourth quarter).

For the better part of the pandemic year, cable networks were able to maintain 18-49 viewing losses at a similar level, with 14% (first quarter); 13% (Q2), 14% (Q3); and 16% (Q4). In the first quarter of 2021, cable networks dropped 22%.

Live plus same-day viewing -- except for live sports -- has been largely replaced by TV networks/marketeers, moving to time-shifted viewing metrics -- average commercial program ratings plus three-day, seven-day, or for an entire ad campaign. The latter was started by NBC with its CFlight measure in 2018.

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