The numbers for the 2008-9 television season are out, and it’s some unexpected good news for the broadcast networks.
Despite dire predictions by some pundits that the broadcast networks would hemorrhage double-digit audience losses this season, the end result was pretty much the same modest trickle they’ve been experiencing for the last decade.
According to just-released Nielsen Media Research data, the Big Four this past season collectively just lost about 5 percent of their most coveted audience, adults 18-49, and about 2 percent of their total audience.
Fox experienced the bulk of the pain when it came to the key demographic, down 16 percent in 18-49s, with its juggernaut “American Idol” losing a bit of steam. But Fox (and “Idol”) still finished on top, with the network narrowly topping CBS in the adult demographic by a margin of a 3.6 rating vs. a 3.1.
It was the fifth year in a row that Fox won the 18-49 demo.
Despite its own modest viewer drop — 12 percent in adults 18-49 and 9 percent in total viewers — “Idol” was once again as TV’s top-rated show. In fact, “Idol” finished the season with a 72 percent ratings lead in the key demo over number two, ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.”
“Idol” averaged 26.7 million total viewers for the season.
Buoyed by the strength of Top 10-rated procedural hits including “CSI,” “NCIS” and “The Mentalist,” CBS was not only up 3 percent in the key adult demo, it also won the crown in total viewers this year — up 11 percent, averaging 11.8 million watchers.
For its part, ABC suffered a bit from a post-writers’ strike hangover this past season, with high-profile dramas like “Pushing Daisies” failing to recapture momentum following a lengthy production hiatus of almost a year.
The network finished the season down 3 percent in both adults 18-49 and total viewers, averaging a respective 2.9 rating and 9 million viewers, with Top 10 hits including “Dancing With the Stars, “Lost” and “Housewives” offsetting dramatic failures like “Life on Mars” and “Dirty Sexy Money.”
Last among the Big Four, NBC didn’t have a single entertainment program ranked in the Top 10 this past season, but the strength of “Sunday Night Football” (the number-two program overall behind “Idol” this season), as well as events like the Super Bowl, the network managed to finish flat in adults, averaging a 2.8 rating.
NBC did experience a 3 percent total viewer decline, to 7.8 million.
Outside the Big Four, the CW experienced drops of 22 percent in total viewers and 18 percent in adults 18-49. However, the network, which sells to a narrow, “Gossip Girl”-driven demographic profile, was flat in the group that really matters to it, women 18-34.