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News Flash: Reports of Conventional Broadcast TV's Death Are Greatly Exaggerated, and Here's Why
November 13, 2019  | By Alex Strachan  | 1 comment

What are you watching during November sweeps? Exactly.

It's worth digging beneath the surface of these early-season numbers in traditional broadcast television, though.

The easy, safe story — which is not to say the easy, safe story is wrong — is that the end is nigh for traditional broadcast TV. Last month's season premieres didn't make for pretty viewing for the Big Four, as the numbers for virtually all new and returning shows registered historic lows, aside from a handful of exceptions. The shift in prime-time viewing habits may be profound and widespread, but it's hardly news. Not in late 2019, at any rate.

And yet. . .

While there's little on the commercial broadcast networks that will tear one away from Netflix or Amazon Prime, the truth is — as TVWW proves each day — there are still enough viewers watching TV the old way to justify the energy and expense of making one-size-fits-all dramas and sitcoms, whether it's seemingly ageless stalwarts like Grey's Anatomy (top) or old, albeit soon-to-end comedy reliables like Modern Family. Bucking the modern trend, ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke noted in a ratings press release just this past week that eight of ABC's season premieres grew or held even with their averages from last year, which suggests if nothing else that reports of conventional broadcast TV's impending death are greatly exaggerated.

In a memo to ABC staff as reported in the Hollywood trade press this past weekend, Burke confirmed that ABC is dropping so-called Live+ Same Day ratings reports, which not so long ago determined which shows stood the best chance of survival or cancellation.

The overnight ratings no longer have the cachet they used to because, judging from ABC's own in-house figures, delayed viewing is up 30% from last year and nearly 60% from two years ago. "People used to plan their lives around television; now they plan television around their lives," Burke explained in her memo.

ABC now joins Fox in ditching overnight ratings reports. The others seem soon to follow. 
The season's winners so far feature few, if any, surprises. NFL football — which, let's face it, is a reliable product with a guaranteed, built-in following — is growing even more popular with viewers. Nearly 18 million viewers tuned into Fox for a September Thursday Night Football matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles, a jump of 22% over last year's equivalent opener. That same week, NBC's Sunday Night Football landed nearly 25 million viewers for an uninspired, low-scoring season opener featuring the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints.

That's a big audience on the face of it, but it had the attendant side effect of driving down the potential audience for scripted shows that premiered the same night. Context is everything. While it's true that Sunday Night Football is setting ratings records, football also explains why new shows like Perfect Harmony (NBC) and The UnicornCarol's Second Act, and Evil (CBS) have yet to make a significant impact on the weekly ratings.

That's not to say that, on another night, or in January, when the regular NFL season ends, those numbers can't or won't improve. That's why, despite the ratings fall-off across the board, this season has seen relatively few early cancellations.

That's another underreported story, as anyone who's followed TVWW over time knows: Not so long ago, if a new scripted show tanked out of the gate, it could be off-the-air in less than a month — in just two weeks, in some cases.

Reality competition programs like The Voice (NBC), The Masked Singer (Fox), and Survivor (CBS) continue to defy predictions of gloom for the broadcast networks. Relatively inexpensive to make and despite their brief sell-by date — hardly anyone wants to watch The Voice days after the fact, let alone a week or more — reality-competition shows may yet prove to be the broadcast networks' saving grace.

The real story, though — underreported, overlooked, and unfairly ignored — is the enduring success of not just old faithful Grey’s Anatomy but old reliables like NCISNCIS: New OrleansChicago FireChicago Med, and Hawaii Five-0. None of these will ever make an impact at the Emmy Awards, and none of them will convince viewers to walk away from Netflix or HBO, but their durability and longevity point to a larger truth:

While we all, as Karey Burke says, used to plan our lives around television and now plan television around our lives, there's still a substantial appetite for the "safe, comfy hour," when — whether out of habit or family routine — viewers in considerable number still sit down in front of a TV on a specific night at a specific hour to watch a handful of shows they've come to rely on and trust. There's nothing dangerous or threatening or unpredictable about NCIS, for example. You know what you're going to get. To twist an old catchphrase – it's not HBO, it's TV. There's nothing in NCIS that will offend you, disturb you or even surprise you. It's not going to turn into The Walking Dead suddenly.

And that's what a considerable number of viewers across the land want and need in their lives, especially now, when people's lives seem to be getting crazier and more unpredictable by the hour.

That's the secret behind broadcast TV's longevity, the story you hardly ever see in the entertainment news.

Yes, the numbers are down, and in some cases, down sharply.

People are still watching, though, in significant numbers, in many cases, not just in New York and LA, but in cities like Columbus, Kansas City, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Denver, Des Moines, and Dallas — the cities and large towns between the two coasts.

That's your audience for NCIS and Grey's Anatomy. And indications are that, despite inroads by Netflix and Amazon, those viewers are not going anywhere any time soon.

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In my region, the cable that provides Internet connection is the cable that is also Comcast/Xfinity. When "joining' you find that they don't want to sell stand alone Internet. So "packages" including content are actually made cheaper than stand alone Internet service. Hence, many of us have Content by default, used or unused.
Aside from some date-sensitive programming, News for example, the 200+ networks are nearly useless. Thanks to TVWW, often an individual gem is found--Thank you!
This probably supports much hope on the part of programming---
but the excessive advertising(so relentless!) and the concepts by committee are quite off-putting.
If we can avoid the excessive pharma ads--we have access to wonderful other sources. The problem now is how to wisely choose the sources, to stay "in budget"
Nov 18, 2019   |  Reply
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