Network broadcast television has been in a downward spiral for years, but the recent disastrous ratings from the sweeps period had to shock even the most hopeful executives of the big four networks. Networks ratings dropped 23 percent compared to a year ago, and all four broadcast networks experienced losses.Let's restate that number. Network television viewing, in one year's time, dropped 23%.
Cable channels that used to cater to narrow audiences are grabbing for a mass audience. A formerly niche channel, History, is stealing more than 10 million viewers a week with “The Bible.” A&E’s third season debut of “Duck Dynasty” reached almost 9 million, way more than most network fare.
NBC’s ratings drop is the most dramatic, finishing the sweeps in fifth place, even behind the Spanish-language Univision. No NBC show rated in the top 25. No NBC show during February came within a million viewers of PBS’ “Downton Abbey.” NBC’s highest-rated show that month was “Saturday Night Live.” Really weak.
McCall proceeds to write at length about how network television producers have been tone deaf to what people want to watch. While I think that is undoubtedly true, I believe the bigger factor is the numerous options people have for entertainment when they want that entertainment. People no longer have to retire to their living rooms from 8 pm to 10 pm to watch network fare. They have other options.
Last year, I got tired of paying $100 plus for satellite television. I cancelled it and got Hulu at $7.99 a month instead. While I still have some very basic cable, that's only because I get a cheaper rate on my Internet by doing that. Meanwhile I watch a lot of shows on my computer, including documentaries and the NCAA tournament. The only thing I've missed so far are the news networks (CNN, FOXNews, MSNBC, etc.) when trying to follow current news events like election results. Is that worth $100 a month? No.
We are quite possibly witnessing the death throes of the major television networks.