Inside The Upfronts: Broadcast Declines Less Dramatic Than the Press Would Have Us Believe

With the Upfront buying season about to start and the networks preparing to announce their line-ups next week, much has been said in the press about the decline of TV viewing in first quarter.  As usual, the reports are overly dramatic in their portrayal of broadcast television (and TV in general) being in its death throes.  Here are a few key points on the TV season to date:

1Q ’13 Update

+       With the exception of NBC, the broadcast networks are down less in 1st quarter than they were in 4th quarter:

+        ABC is down 5 percent (vs. 13 percent in 4Q)

+        CBS is down 13 percent (vs. 17 percent in 4Q)

+        NBC is down 22 percent with adults 18-49 (vs. a 33 percent increase in 4Q)

+        FOX is down 8 percent (vs. 21 percent in 4Q)

+        CW is flat (vs. 8 percent decline in 4Q)

NBC’s first quarter struggles have been widely reported since January.  Virtually every mid-season show introduced was a dud, including the already cancelled Do No Harm and Ready for Love, and the likely to be cancelled Deception and 1600 Penn.  Not to mention the lackluster return of Smash.  On the plus side, Revolution stayed strong on its return in late March (though it has yet to be tested on its own, without a Voice lead-in).

While the 22 percent decline is definitely troublesome for NBC, it’s not nearly as high as the 40 percent decline reported in the press.  The 40 percent decline includes the Super Bowl, which rotates networks year to year and shouldn’t be included in any comparison.

The two quarters off-set each other, making NBC flat versus last year at a 1.6 among adults 18-49.

Since the end of 1st quarter, The Voice has returned to the schedule for NBC.  With just three weeks of data in, the show is down slightly from last spring but up versus the same amount of episodes in the fall.

FOX’s biggest success this season has been midseason drama The Following.   It is the only midseason show to rank in the top 10 among adults 18-49 in first quarter and has already been renewed.

American Idol vs. The Voice

+       Now in its 12th season, American Idol is posting declines of about 20 percent year-to-year, depending on the demo.

+       Despite the decline, Idol is still one of the top 5 programs in prime (behind Big Bang Theory and The Voice).

+       This year Idol made its 4th change on the judging panel in the past 5 seasons.

+        Similar to past seasons, the revamped panel did little to help the ratings, even with the ongoing “feud” between Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey.

+        Rumors have been circulating that FOX execs were seeking to replace Carey with former judge Jennifer Lopez.  FOX has denied the claims.

+       Although there are still a couple of weeks before the regular season ends, right now The Voice has the edge in audience over Idol.

 Season To Date

+        Overall, broadcast prime is down by 5 percent among households and 10 percent among adults 18-49 year-to-year.

+        Household usage is flat, while adult 18-49 usage is down by 3 percent.

+       By network:

+        ABC is down 5 percent among HHs and 8 percent among adults 18-49

+        CBS down 4 percent and 14 percent, respectively

+        NBC down 2 percent and flat among adults 18-49

+        FOX down 11 percent and 14 percent, respectively

+        CW is flat among households and down 6 percent among adults 18-49


For more information, contact [email protected].

Source: Nielsen C3 data through 1Q13.