Paul Lee Exit: How Bad Were ABC’s Ratings Troubles?

ABC is currently suffering the hardest falls among Big 4 networks in both key demo and total viewers

ABC shocked the TV world Wednesday when it announced that Paul Lee was stepping down as its entertainment president. However, to anyone who has been following the current season’s Nielsen ratings, it was clear something at ABC had to change.

The Disney broadcaster’s ratings in the key 18-49 demographic rank it fourth place among the so-called Big 4 networks, something that surely didn’t help Lee’s job security (among other reported reasons). ABC and NBC are tied for biggest demo drop season-to-date year over year.

NBC has an excuse for its 14 percent fall, however — the network had the Super Bowl last year, which made a fall much more expected.

(All numbers in this story are Nielsen’s “most current” ratings data set, which count seven-day delayed viewing where available.)

ABC trails third-place Fox, thanks to Fox’s success with “Empire” and NFL football. First-place CBS and Fox are both flat in the ratings.

Here are the broadcast network primetime demo ratings, from Sep. 21, 2015 to Feb. 14, 2016:

1. CBS: 2.5 (Flat, but with Super Bowl 50 this season)
2. NBC: 2.4 (Down 14 percent, but versus Super Bowl XLIX)
3. Fox: 2.1 (Flat)
4. ABC: 1.8 (Down 14 percent)
5. Univision: 0.8 (Down 27 percent)
6. CW: 0.7 (Down 12 percent)
7. Telemundo: 0.6 (Up 20 percent)

More bad news: ABC is actually down every night of the week this season, beside Saturday, in both the main demo and among total viewers.

Monday through Thursday, it’s down double digits each night, per both metrics. On Saturdays, ABC is flat in the demo, though the network is up slightly in total viewers from the previous TV season’s track.

Thursdays, which are ABC’s best night thanks to Shonda Rhimes, are down 17 percent from last year.

Lee was named head of ABC Entertainment in 2010. Since then, he’s had his steady years, a couple down years, and even one year of recovery and growth — thanks Shondaland! — but none of them have moved as dramatically in either direction as this season is on pace to. Lee’s ABC tenure included two standalone fourth-place finishes, with a third on its way.

Here are the full-season primetime averages under Lee, all in Live + 7 Day data:
2010-2011: 2.5 (Third)
2011-2012: 2.5 (Third, tie)
2012-2013: 2.3 (Fourth)
2013-2014: 2.2 (Fourth)
2014-2015: 2.3 (Third)

Obviously, changes in viewing habits have affected the entire TV industry, and ABC is no exception. But with no pro football programming (Disney’s ESPN has “Monday Night Football”) and “TGIT” trending in the wrong direction, I guess what we’re trying to say is: Good luck, Channing Dungey.