TV Viewership is Down, but Why?

Tanner | Sep 30, 2011

Shows today aren’t getting as much attention as the shows of yesteryear. First reported by New York Magazine, some of the hit shows of the 2011 TV season (including “New Girl”, “Modern Family”, and “Pan Am”) are premiering to lower-than-historically-average viewersship. That’s right. Nearly 14 million people tuned-in to watch the season premier of ABC’s “Modern Family” which is a pretty decent number of people tuning-in on their television set. However, compare that number to the 27 million people who tuned-in to a rerun of the show “Grace Under Fire” in 1995. That means nearly 14 million more people tuned-in to a rerun in 1995 than a new show premier today. Why? What’s happened to TV viewership? How is it that new shows like “New Girl” – which premiered to a measly 9 million viewers – are doing so poor in terms of viewership compared to the shows that premiered and ran through the 90s? There are a few possible reasons for the lower viewership (which, in many cases, is a difference of millions). Here are a few of the potential explinations for what’s happening:

1. Technology for reporting viewership has become more accurate.

It’s entirely possible that the technology we used to rely on for reporting TV viewership was powerfully flawed. Which would mean that more recent reports — from companies like Neilsen, which report on media consumption in the United States — are accurate, and the higher-viewership numbers for shows of past decades have been not entirely true.

Viewers are looking elsewhere for entertainment.

DVRs, Hulu, Netflix, and network websites are all potential places for viewers to get their entertainment fix. The number of people who watch a full episode on a website or through recording DVRs aren’t typically reported with the live TV viewership numbers, which skews them considerably.

3. There are more options for what to watch.

The more shows that we have to watch means the average viewership (even for record-breaking premiers) is going to be lower. Our attention will be spread out a bit thinner across television land and that means that the number it takes to make a show a hit is shifting as well. Whatever the answer is, we may not know for some time. Still, it doesn’t hurt to speculate why millions more people are tuning-out what’s being shown on TV lately. What do you think is going on? Photo by Juliana Coutinho.


Get Our Newsletter


Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...