The fall television season is in for a rocky start as the five broadcast TV networks have all seen double-digit percentage ratings drops in the key demo, according to a report.
Entertainment Weekly reports that the five networks — CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX, and The CW — are all off at least 11 percent from the same time last year in the highly-coveted key demo (18-49), which the nets rely on to make pitches to advertisers.
CBS and ABC are down 12 and 14 percent, respectively, while CW is down a brutal 17 percent as its two new fall offerings, Frequency and No Tomorrow, struggle to gain traction.
There are a few fall shows performing decently; CBS’s Kevin Can Wait and Bull, ABC’s Speechless and Fox’s Lethal Weapon, which have all been picked up for full seasons, while ABC’s Kiefer Sutherland vehicle Designated Survivor and NBC’s ensemble drama This is Us look like actual hits.
But for the most part, the fall TV landscape is littered with little-watched (and even lower-rated) fare; the CW’s aforementioned Frequency and No Tomorrow, Fox’s disastrous take on The Exorcist, its female baseball drama Pitch and its hybrid live-action animated comedy Son of Zorn. The jury is still out on CBS’ Man with a Plan, which stars Matt LeBlanc of Friends fame as a stay-at-home dad. That show premiered Monday night to a solid 7.3 million viewers but a soft 1.6 rating.
The ratings declines come as TV networks and bundled cable operators decided this summer to increase their on-demand offerings, giving viewers the ability to catch up with shows mid-season in an effort to stanch the bleeding caused by streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
It is a sort-of chicken-and-egg scenario: are the sub-par programs responsible for the continued cable cord-cutting, or is the cord-cutting to blame for the double-digit ratings declines?
Either way, more than 750,000 cable subscribers cut the cord in the second quarter of this year, and that number is up from the 560,000 that cut their service in the second quarter of last year. It’s not clear whether the networks’ increased on-demand offerings can reverse the trend.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum