Tough Spring for Network TV as Ratings Tumble

Cote de Pablo in "NCIS" (Photo: CBS)

NEW YORK (AP) — The springtime slumber is continuing for the television networks.

Viewership is down across the broadcast networks, with the primary culprit being the different ways people are experiencing television. DVRs, video on demand, streaming of material on tablets or other computers are all options that viewers are turning to in bigger numbers, according to researchers.

“It’s not like people are leaving the living room,” said Brad Adgate, research analyst at Horizon Media. “It’s just that they are consuming content on different devices.”

Only one program, CBS’ “NCIS,” exceeded 17 million viewers last week as broadcasters count down the last month toward season finales, according to Nielsen. During the past month, viewership at ABC is down 10 percent from last year, CBS is down 5 percent, Fox is down 16 percent and NBC is down 4 percent. PBS is down 46 percent and even Univision, the leader in the fast-growing Spanish-language marketplace, is down 6 percent.

During an average minute in prime time, an estimated 12 million people are watching something on their digital video recorder, Nielsen said. Only six individual programs had a bigger audience last week.

Watch the No. 1 show on network TV, “NCIS,” right here:
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The difference is more pronounced among the 18-to-49-year-old demographic, upon which many of the networks base their advertising sales. In that age group, only Wednesday’s edition of “American Idol” had a bigger audience than people watching shows on their DVRs, Nielsen said.

Illustrating another competitor for time, ComScore reported that an estimated 37 billion videos were watched online during March. The company said that 8.3 billion online ads were viewed, the first time the number of ads seen exceeded 8 billion for a month.

Traditional TV formats are hurting. After “NCIS,” Nielsen said that no comedy or drama on prime-time television last week reached as many as 12 million viewers.

For the week, CBS averaged 8.2 million viewers in prime time (5.2 rating, 9 share). ABC had 7.7 million (5.0, 8), Fox had 6.9 million (4.2, 7), NBC had 5.2 million (3.3, 6), the CW had 1.3 million (0.9, 1) and ION television had 960,000 (0.7, 1).

Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision led with a 3.7 million average (1.9, 3), Telemundo had 1 million (0.6, 1), TeleFutura had 610,000 (0.3, 1), Estrella had 240,000 and Azteca 140,000 (both 0.1, 0).

“Castle” is holding its own on ABC — watch an episode right here:
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NBC’s “Nightly News” topped the evening newscasts with an average of 8.4 million viewers (5.6, 12). ABC’s “World News” was second with 7.1 million (4.9, 10) and the “CBS Evening News” had 5.8 million viewers (4.0, 8).

A ratings point represents 1,147,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation’s estimated 114.7 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.

For the week of April 16-22, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: “NCIS,” CBS, 18.08 million; “American Idol” (Wednesday), Fox, 16.9 million; “Dancing With the Stars,” ABC, 16.65 million; “American Idol” (Thursday), Fox, 14.99 million; “Dancing With the Stars Results,” ABC, 14.17 million; “60 Minutes,” CBS, 12.96 million; “Castle,” ABC, 11.23 million; “Two and a Half Men,” CBS, 11.22 million; “NCIS: Los Angeles,” CBS, 11.17 million; “The Good Wife,” CBS, 10.42 million.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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