Big 4 Network Ratings Down 10% This Season

Sure, the source is a cable network research department (Turner), but the 18-49 numbers are way bad

Last Updated: March 23, 2011 @ 3:52 PM

Things are tough all over for traditional media.

As their counterparts on the motion-picture lot grapple with 20 percent-plus year-to-year declines at the box office, the Big Four broadcast networks have their own headache: Double-digit drops in their key demo this season.

As it frequently does, cable conglomerate Turner Networks was there to point out the problem.

On Wednesday, Turner's research department once again released data that shows the further erosion of broadcast viewership by the adults 18-49 demo — it's declined 10 percent so far this season on the four biggest networks after remaining flat the last several years (see chart below). The Big Four are also down 8 percent in households through 35 and 1/2 weeks of the current season.

NBC leads the decliners, dropping 14 percent from 2009-10 — a season that featured high-rated Winter Olympic Games coverage for the Peacock. The network is down about 32 percent in the first quarter, according to the report.

Since 2001, the Big Four are down collectively about 35 percent in the key demo.

The report — perhaps self-servingly — adds that ad-supported cable is up 3 percent so far this season.

"For five or 10 years, I've felt this has been an archaic way of looking at things," noted one broadcast-network research chief. "To continue to lump together four fixed networks that established themselves decades ago to an ever-expanding segment that's adding channels and that's seeing skyrocketing investment year after year, it's inevitable that you'd see the four established networks gradually lose share to the ever-expanding segment."

Meanwhile, in summarizing the Big Four's troubles, Turner pays no attention to emerging broadcast platforms like Univision, which has grown significantly in recent years.

"I question the relevance of the comparison in any case and certainly don't understand why CW, Ion, Univision, Telemundo, Telefutura, PBS and independent TV stations aren't included on the broadcast side," the research exec said.