Soaps and talk are the only shows enjoying COVID isolation
While the United States attempts to flatten the curve on the spread of the coronavirus, once-boosted TV ratings due to self-isolation are also flattening — and in some cases, have already completely reversed course.
For what we are considering the four weeks (Feb. 10, 2020-March 8, 2020) before COVID-19 began shutting down the U.S., in the key adults 18-49 demographic, the PUT (Persons Using Televisions) levels for four main day parts — morning, daytime, primetime and late-night — declined between 13% and 17% from last year.
Not a great starting point for linear (non-streaming, digital or mobile) television, but an important one for this story.
Over the following five weeks (March 16-April 19), daytime TV skyrocketed 45 percentage points. The other three day parts were still down from the same weeks in 2019, but they were much closer to being flat.
By the subsequent five weeks (April 22-May 24), almost everything was pretty close to “back-down-to-Earth” status. Daytime remained up, though just +9%.
Isolating just the final week of that span, the declines all grew a few percentage points. Even daytime was in the red at -3%, as viewership trends start looking more and more like what the industry was experiencing pre-COVID.
In overall household TV usage, or HUT (Homes Using Televisions) levels, the story is about the same — just with a less dramatic starting point.
Daytime television is holding up better. After an initial +27% surge over the first four weeks of self-isolation, daytime TV was up 15% across the next four. Last week it remained up 9% — so the initial growth is reversing, especially as reruns come into play, but older viewers are turning off their soap operas and daytime talk shows at a much slower rate than younger ones.
All told, morning television and primetime have the two harshest comparisons to last year’s levels.
Morning TV, which consists of programming from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., generally thrives as background noise between getting the kids on the bus and commuting to work. Neither of those are really happening these days.
As for primetime, that hugely important stretch from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. is packed with repeats due to production hiatuses.
Yes, Americans are getting antsy, but we’re not that bored (yet).