Fox Has Lost 30% of Viewers This Season – and CBS Drops Are Worse

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Fox Has Lost 30% of Its Viewers This Season – and CBS Declines Are Even Worse

Oh, the ratings out there are frightful

We knew this Fall TV season would suck, and now we pretty much know just how much it sucks — in TV ratings, at least.

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At this same point in the Fall 2019 TV season, Fox was No. 1, with an average 2.1 rating among adults 18-49. NBC was fairly close behind with a 1.9, according to Nielsen.

CBS and ABC were all knotted up in third place a year ago, each with a 1.2 rating in the advertiser-coveted demographic.

One year later, things have changed — and not for the better.

Thus far this season, NBC and Fox are separated by the same margin — they’re just both much lower rated. Through Dec. 13, 2020, Fox is averaging a 1.5 and NBC has a 1.3. ABC is alone in third place with a 1.1 and CBS is fourth with 0.9.

Those numbers include one week of delayed viewing and focus on regularly scheduled primetime programming. The averages include sports and news, but exclude politics. For this season, we’re averaging broadcasts from Sept. 21, 2020 through December 13, 2020.

To date, Fox has shed 30% of its primetime rating in the key demo. That’s the worst demo decline among the Big 4 broadcast nets, though NBC is right there at -29%. CBS has lost exactly one-quarter of its average demo rating when comparing the current season with the previous one.

ABC’s year-to-year decline was a much more palatable, a mere 4% drop. Thank goodness for the coronavirus-delayed NBA Finals and “The Bachelorette.”

This season, NBC remains No. 1 in total viewers, though its 6.14 million total-viewer average is down 26% from 2019’s 8.29 million. NBC is the home to “Sunday Night Football,” the top show on all of TV.

Fox is in second place this year with 5.32 million total viewers. Like its demo decline, the viewer tally is also down 30%. The “Masked Singer” home’s 5.32 million total-viewer average is nowhere near the 7.58 million it averaged into mid-December last year — but that’s not the largest loss.

CBS, which does not have primetime football, is in third place with 5.19 million total viewers. Unfortunately, without many new episodes of “NCIS” to air due to pandemic production delays, the network has experienced the worst overall audience decline among the Big 4 broadcast networks, and is down a whopping 36% from last year’s 8.14 million average.

CBS finds itself at a programming disadvantage this season. Just 5% of its primetime programming has been taken up by live sports, which are generally highly rated, thus far this season. ABC has the second-lowest percentage total, but it is significantly higher at 22%. NBC aired live sports in 24% of its primetime programming time slots.

Fox topped all three of its competitors combined, with 52% of its primetime programming thus far this season being taken up by live sports. Fox has “Thursday Night Football,” Major League Baseball and WWE’s “SmackDown.” It also has a shorter primetime window each night than CBS, NBC and ABC do.

Within that 95% of remaining primetime time slots, CBS’ entertainment programming (so excluding sports for both seasons) alone is down 40% in total viewers, the harshest of any Big 4 decline. The network can’t get more “Blue Bloods” quick enough.

ABC is currently fourth in total viewers, but again it’s had the lightest decline of the competition. ABC slipped 10% from an average of 5.67 million total viewers to an average of 5.11 million. That decline looks almost normal for the television landscape of recent years as more consumers cut the cord and retreat from linear broadcast TV.

If you’re wondering about The CW, the youngest-skewing broadcast network technically had the largest declines, with its already low starting points plummeting 43% in the key demo and 65% in total viewers. We thought it only fair as a mere mention, however, considering that The CW didn’t really return with much of its programming for fall. The former WB penciled in January for the majority of its season premieres, though the beloved “Supernatural” did burn off its few final episodes before the year’s end.

The CW does not air any sports programming.

Here, we’d normally wish broadcast-network executives a Merry Christmas — but we know better under the circumstances. So instead, this columnist will just sign off for the year with some cautious optimism: 2021 can’t be any worse. (Right?)

Tony Maglio