Updated: Where Did The Primetime Broadcast Audience Go?

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Updated: Where Did The Primetime Broadcast Audience Go?

Postby TeMerc » Wed Dec 03, 2008 11:11 am

Posted on 03 December 2008 by Bill Gorman

We’ve seen that primetime broadcast network viewership has been on the decline since the early 80’s. But we’ve also seen that primetime TV viewing by household has been relatively flat from the early 90’s. Where did the primetime network audience go?

It went, and continues to go, to cable.
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The chart, table and text below have now been updated with the final numbers from the 2007-8 season. Note that the percentage of US TV HHs (rating) viewing during prime-time has risen slowly over time, but the broadcast networks share of viewing has continued to drop for the entire period.

As the prime-time broadcast network audience began declining in the early 1980’s, it shifted to cable networks, and by an ever increasing amount, basic/ad supported cable networks.

Over the past 20+ years, Independent Stations have joined up and become Network Affiliates. Note the ever growing list of networks below. I am looking for good data on the number of Independent stations vs. Network Affiliates over time, but conventional wisdom is that their numbers have shrunk substantially. That’s why I colored both of those series blue. I think they should be considered part of the same viewership trend. Taken together, those two groups have gone from a rating of 54.5 to 27.9, a decline of 49%.

At the same time, Public broadcast primetime viewing has fallen from a HH rating of 2.6 to 1.4, a similar percentage decline of about 54%.

Although I was mostly coherent in the mid-80’s, it was quite a surprise that in 1984-85 audiences were watching more Premium/Pay Cable than Ad/Basic cable.

What is undeniable is that the growth of Ad Supported/Basic cable viewing was not followed by a similar growth in premium/pay cable viewing. Premium/Pay cable has seen its share fall modestly during the period. It’s hard to compare the Premium/Pay Cable numbers before 1999 with those after 1999 because of the definition change (noted below) though.

0-= Continued @ TVByTheNumbers
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