So-called “legacy” TV has been shedding viewers for decades, but recently, some signs and circumstances may indicate that the decline of the broadcast networks -- as well as basic cable networks -- has entered a new phase.
What “signs and circumstances?” The TV Blog jotted down five of them the other day that, taken together, feel like something different than the forces that have long been impacting the broadcast nets at least since the 1980s and ’90s.
Talk of doing away with the 10-11 p.m. (Eastern) time period as a first step in chipping away at network prime time.
This possibility arose at the end of August as the news got out that top brass at NBC were kicking around the idea that the network might be better off jettisoning its obligations to its affiliates in the third hour of prime time -- presumably on all seven nights of the week.
As long-time network TV observers know, if one network is thinking about this, then it is a pretty good bet the others are too.
The idea is reportedly being driven, at least in part, by concerns about the costs of the 10 p.m. dramas and their profitability -- particularly in light of the never-ending erosion of network viewership generally.
TV networks thinking about getting out of prime time? It seems unthinkable, but apparently it is not.
Talk about the weakness of late-night. Also unthinkable not that long ago: Networks rethinking the whole idea of late-night TV, once one of the most reliable dayparts in all of television for drawing audiences and revenue.
According to stories published in the wake of Trevor Noah announcing last month that he is leaving “The Daily Show,” the very nature of late-night is under review in network television.
The discussions reportedly include moving the late-night shows to earlier time periods -- and possibly even the 10-11 slot now being rethought.
Moving the late-night shows to 10 p.m.? It should go without saying, but then they would cease to be late-night shows.
Again, these major moves may or may not happen. But just the fact that they are being talked about represents out-of-the-box thinking that could remake all of television.
Football moving to streaming. Not too long ago, even as every other asteroid in the TV universe was crashing into traditional television, the NFL on network TV was sacrosanct.
Not anymore, now that Amazon has some claws in the one entertainment franchise that in many ways sustains network TV.Like every other facet of content delivery in the television business migrating to streaming platforms, it seems inevitable that Big Sports will eventually do the same thing. Or is it?
The usual stories of declining ratings and reach. The erosion beat goes on. Never are there stories reporting on the growth of network television with headlines such as “Networks gain viewership year to year.” This does not happen.
Just days ago, a MediaPost story reported on new research indicating that network and cable TV reach “continues to plummet.” Network data like this always seems to “plummet,” doesn't it?
The rise of advertising sales in the streaming universe. Increasingly these days, the ad sales eggs are going into a new basket -- ad-supported streaming. If that takes off, what will happen to broadcast TV and ad-supported basic cable?
Who will be left in broadcasting?
Perhaps local TV stations will be out there in the TV universe all by themselves, untethered to a network mothership.
Things aren't as bad as they seem, Adam. While I believe that "pay TV" subscribers will decline to about 50 million homes---or just under 40% of the total "TV" population--- such viewers will continue to consume far more than the average of television content, meaning that they will generate as much as 50% of "TV's" advertising GRPs ( by "TV" I refer in this discussion to "linear" plus streaming ). Add to that the 15% or more homes that will continue to get over-the-air reception via antennas---the figure may rise to 16-18%---and the broadcast TV networks plus the stations will be reaching upwards of half of the "TV" population and delivering 55-60% of the GRPs. Those are pretty big numbers---even if there is considerable rating fragmentation with so many networks and stations ---plus cable channels----trying to grab viewers.
This does not mean that changes are not in the works. As you noted late night TV was once a "cash cow" for the brodcast TV networks---but that was when Carson was reaching 6-7% of all TV homes per minute and hind runners like CBS's Merv Griffin and ABC's Joey Bishop were getting 3-5% tune in levels. Today's late night ratings are miniscule compared to the good old days so, of course, the networks are considering "plan B". And this applies to the 10-11PM hour as well. They could put in cheaper reality, variety, newsmags or game shows---or they might just drop the hour entirely---but I don't see them abandoning 8-10PM anytime soon. They couldn't afford the loss in ad revenue or their profit share deals with the producers and, especially, not the loss in retransmission fees which the "pay TV" folks would surely impose on them. Also, they need these time slots to fund quality dramas and sitcoms which will later be included in their streaming service libraries.
When viewing goes from 70 to 45 percent in 5 years it's time to admit the end of days. When network viewing effectively skips a generation, can there be much of a future? Stations should survive but just one or two can handle local news and weather emergencies, no need for 4 or more over-the-air affiliates.
Douglas, sorry to dash your hopes but the data you refer to does not signify that linear TV viewing has declined from a 70% share to 45% in five years. The article is about weekly reach per network or channel---not frequency of viewing nor the combined reach of all of the channels that constitute linearTV. In terms of time spent, linear TV---that's the national broadcast networks plus all of the stations plus all of thecable channels---- has seen its share of "TV" viewing ( that's linear plus streaming ) decline from around 85% to about 65% over the past five years and some of that 35% for streaming is linear TV content viewed on apps. Also, when it comes to advertiser GRPs the spread is even greater as about half of streaming viewing is not-ad-supported and most of the streaming services that sell ads present many fewer commercials per hour than their linear counterparts.
What's really happening is that the two platforms are blending together---with linear programmers and advertisers moving into streaming to draw incomes from cord cutters who are moving in the same direction. But with 80% of all TV homes now streaming the nature of the streaming audience---now being swelled by heavy viewing oldsters and low brows--- is also changing---it will eventually look very much like the traditional TV audience of 2010.