TV Isn’t Dead, It’s Not Even Sick


In recent years, much has been written about the “death of TV”. From what we’ve seen so far with fall premieres and sports programming, this isn’t yet the case. But the balance of viewership today between Boomers and Gen Y, along with television’s tie to pop culture, is worth focusing on with fresh numbers and the latest ratings for there are things to learn.

TV networks debut most of their new shows in late September. When evaluated together, the big four networks (NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox) were up 11 percent in the 18 – 49 demo.  There were several huge shows to start the season:

Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: 12.1 million viewers

The Blacklist: 12.6 million viewers

The Crazy Ones: 15.6 million viewers

The Voice: 15 million viewers

The Big Bang Theory: 20.4 million viewers

NCIS: 20 million viewers

And time-shifted viewing vaulted other shows to the top… Take the new Fox series, Sleepy Hollow. It premiered with 12.7 million viewers and then picked up another 10 million during the week—from DVRs and Hulu—which made for a whopping 79% audience lift. This was Fox’s highest-rated premiere in 12 years.

Overall, among the younger 18 – 49 audience, NBC leads all networks and is up 3 percent over last season. Fox remains on top for delivering key programming for younger audiences with shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy still bringing in between 9 and 11 million viewers each.

But there’s no doubt that TV, in general, is aging. Boomer audiences by sheer size represent the majority of the ratings because their equally-sizable counterpart, Gen Y, just doesn’t watch as much. According to Nielsen, Boomers spend 174 hours per month watching TV compared to only 107 hours for Gen Y. Accordingly, CBS alone has ten programs (including NCIS, Hawaii Five-o, The Good Wife and 60 Minutes) that deliver a median age of 60.

It’s important to remember that Boomers (now between the ages of 49 and 67) are the wealthiest generation controlling 70 percent of all US disposable income. They account for 50 percent of all packaged goods sales, 80 percent of leisure travel spending and 41 percent of new car purchases.

That being said, time-shifted viewing and alternate-screen viewing is heavier in the younger demos and currently Nielsen can only measure time-shifted DVR ratings within seven days. Twitter ratings are in their infancy and many viewers will watch programming through Hulu, Netflix or the show’s website which aren’t all measured in mass form.

Beyond age demos, TV is still where we overwhelmingly turn for our key events. Like football. Last week’s Sunday match up between the Saints and Patriots delivered 26.7 million viewers. In fact, of the 15 most watched TV shows this fall, NFL games were #1 – #14 with an average of 24.2 million viewers per game.

TV isn’t dead. Far from it. We just need to be sure that we understand the current dynamics of it.

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John Drake
John Drake
October 28, 2013