U.S. TV Time Viewed In Q1 Down 9%, More Declines Expected

Time viewed on broadcast and cable networks was down 9% in the first quarter, according to MoffettNathanson Research. Bigger declines are estimated in the second quarter, due to comparisons to the COVID-19 pandemic bump a year ago.

Analysis of Nielsen data in the first three months of this year shows a total of 3.05 billion minutes viewed for U.S. broadcast and cable networks, down from 3.35 billion minutes in the previous year. Broadcast is down 11% (653 million minutes), while cable is down 8% (2.4 billion minutes).

This data looks at persons 2 years and older for total day viewership, in the average commercial minute ratings plus three days of time-shifted viewing (C3).

MoffettNathanson says some of the current declines reflect comparisons to the two-week period in March 2020 when the pandemic began. “But recent trends do not bode well for the next quarter, when viewership will be facing even tougher comps.”



One indication, MoffettNathanson says, is that from March 15 through April 18 of this year, average broadcast viewership had a steep 20% drop, with cable sinking 26%.

TV networks, through the VAB -- the industry's advertising trade group -- have been complaining that due to a lack of maintenance in Nielsen panel homes, there has been a severe undercounting of viewers since the pandemic began.

Although cable networks showed a time-viewed growth of 3% in the second quarter of 2020 -- the height of the pandemic -- broadcast networks sank 9% during the period, according to MoffettNathanson.

In the first quarter of this year, cable TV news networks had the lowest losses -- down 3% in time viewed (550 million minutes) -- while sports networks were off 4% (218 million); lifestyle networks, 6% (515 million); general entertainment, 12% (788 million); and children/family networks, 14% (325 million).

Turner and NBCUniversal reported that time viewed was up in the first quarter -- due to news networks' growth over a year ago -- up 4% and 3%, respectively. CBS posted the best individual broadcast result, up 3% due to airing the Super Bowl and the return of the NCAA Mens College Basketball Tournament.

The worst performance -- for Fox Corp. -- was due to lower results from Fox News Channel, down 29%. Analysis shows that Fox News Channel had a 31% decline versus the previous first-quarter period.

MoffettNathanson adds: “Cable news ratings have stabilized in recent weeks (albeit at lower levels than 2020) and Fox News has once again established itself as the clear leader.”

5 comments about "U.S. TV Time Viewed In Q1 Down 9%, More Declines Expected".
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  1. Larry Wiken from WIKEN INT"L, April 27, 2021 at 12:42 p.m.

    What's wrong with this picture?
    Today one hand is on the remote to turn off the adds and the other is on the mobile device to tune into social. Nielsen may have a handle on program viewership, but what about 10 commercials in a single break? Who's watching?

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 27, 2021 at 12:58 p.m.

    Hi Larry. To answer your question you might visit the TVision website and take a gander at the findings from their ongoing "eye camera" panel which measures what TV program audiences are looking at on a second by second basis---including commercials. There you will find that 40% of the program audience, on average, looks at the TV screen for at least two seconds when a commercial is presented and, though its not published, other TVision data tells us that the average person who looks at a commercial for at least two seconds, watches about 50-60% of its content. So you are right---some folks do, indeed, pick up their smartphones while others become distracted or leave the room----but not all of them---every time a commercial appears. If that was the case a lot of brands who use TV to stimulate sales would be sucking air as their sales dry up---year after year.

  3. Larry Wiken from WIKEN INT"L replied, April 27, 2021 at 1:44 p.m.

    Hi Ed- As you can tell I've been out of the broadcast ad/media business for some time. And  during the 'lock down' I've watched way to much television (networt and cable). Personally, after an hour in the morning being exposed to as many ad minutes as programing with less then maybe 10% or less relating to me it's really easy to tune out and get on line. It seams to me that televising networks and agencies are killing the business, and they know it. Is that  why they are all moving to streaming? Your thoughts?

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 27, 2021 at 1:58 p.m.

    Larry, I think that one reason----but far from the only reason---why lots of people---but mainly lighter viewing younger and better educated types---- went for Netflix some years ago was their disdain for commercials. But certainly, the on-demand aspect, plus cord cutting by some to save money as well as the availbility of tons of  quality off-network fare on Netflix had a lot to do with it. And, there was also the image aspect, "Ive got Netflix and I binged viewed 'Red Is The New Purple', last night---so I'm on the cutting edge of what's in---and you aren't".

    However things are changing. Netflix is no longer the hot new thing in town and the TV folks are moving into streaming in a big way, bringing with them tons of content, mostly paid for by "linear TV" ad dollars. So, fairly soon, streaming---which is growing rapidly thanks to the influx of new content---will look more and more like "linear TV", including numerous ad-supported services. But, I doubt that "linear TV" will just go away. Rather, it will stabilize, supported by those who don't like change----mainly oldsters----as well as many who have no problem about commercials and even find then amusing, informative, etc. Put these two types together and you are talking about a base level of roughly 40-45% of the population. That's big enough for the TV networks to maintain their "linear TV" profits---which are mainly derived via retransmission fes and profit sharing deals with program producers. To be continued----

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 27, 2021 at 2:11 p.m.

    ----continuing my reply. Regarding commercials, it's an interesting fact that when TV began, primetime TV had the least commercialization while daytime had double  the rate of ad clutter, sometimes more. Yet people got used to both scenarios and as more and more shows became available in the daytime hours, they watched---often it was the same people. Not only that, commercial recall studies showed that daytime did about as well as primetime for women viewers. In other words, "we" got used to the idea that there were many more ad messages in the daytime commercial breaks.

    Over the past twenty years the networks have greatly increased their primetime commercialization levels---in order to compensate for rating fragmentation---and as I said, this is one reason for some of the cord cutting. I expect that they will continue to ad to their clutter, since they hope to capture many new cord cutters with their SVOD/AVOD services. For now, these offer about half the ad clutter as "linear TV" as an inducement to woo subscribers. But will this continue? I doubt it. The end game will come when AVOD subscribers are no longer able to cancel at will without paying a cost penalty and when commercial clutter begins to rise significantly. Will we get used to it---or will we opt out? I  think that we will get used to it.

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