Television ratings slump out of the gate for new autumn season

Michelle Clancy | 12-10-2012

Television ratings for both cable and broadcast networks among adults under age 50 declined during first two weeks of the new autumn season in the United States, according to Nielsen, suggesting not just an erosion in linear broadcast (the figures don't take into account time-shifted content), but also an aging viewing population.

National broadcast networks lost an average of 15% of their viewers in the 18-49 demographic compared with the first two weeks of last season. In that same group, viewership of ad-supported cable channels dropped 1%, according to Nielsen.

Those over 50 were fleeing the boob tube less. Among that demographic, declines at broadcast networks were just 11%, while cable rose 4%.

While the numbers come after just two weeks of a 36-week measurement period, the viewing slump is not good news for the season—or the industry—overall. Ratings tend to start off strong before tapering off after the football season ends and series go into re-runs over the holidays.

"There is little doubt that early 2012/13 network results have been disappointing," Nomura Securities analyst Michael Nathanson said in a research note.

One network has bucked the trend. NBC's 18-49 audience is up 11%, led by Sunday Night Football (the highest-rated show on television), as well as the third season of the Christina Aguilera-produced singing competition, "The Voice," along with the post-apocalyptic drama "Revolution."

In the worst-performing category, FOX and CBS are both down around 25% in the 18-49 demographic. On cable, MTV has seen a 41% decline and Comedy Central has seen a 27% drop, according to Nielsen.