jag fails to halt
networks' loss to cable
Report: Big Three all decline in key 18-49 viewers
By Elizabeth White
Forget all the hoopla over ABCís "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" and CBSís "Survivor."
When it comes to the networks' long-term battle to stem the loss of its audiences to cable, the rise of reality programming appears to be having little to no effect.
Audience erosion continues apace, according to a recent report released by MediaVest.
Last year media analysts and networks hailed the success of "Millionaire" as a sign of networks finding their footing again, after years of losing audience to cable.
It turned out to be just so much happy talk. Season-to-date versus last year, the seven broadcast networks lost 1.6 percent of their adult 18-49 audience share, while cable increased its share by 7.7 percent.
Even more damning for the Big Three networks, they accounted entirely for the loss in share. None of the four smaller networks-- Fox, the WB, UPN, and Pax-- lost adult 18-49 audience share, and all four increased their adult 18-49 rating. The WB and UPN each increased their share by one point.
Losing the most share versus last season was CBS, which squandered the edge that "Survivor" gave it last summer. The networkís disappointing slate of freshman shows has cost the network 9 percent of its adult 18-49 primetime share versus last fall.
ABC has been hurt nearly as badly by its heavy reliance on "Millionaire," dropping over 7 percent among adults 18-49. And NBC is starting to show signs of age, losing 6.7 percent over last season.
Conversely, the smaller broadcast networks have either held steady or grown in adult 18-49 share. Like cable, the smaller broadcast networks benefit from being able to cater to a niche audience.
But the growth for the smaller networks has been driven by a broadening of that niche audience, something both UPN and the WB expressed as a goal at the start of the season.
The traditionally female skewing WB has increased its rating among men 18-34 by 33 percent, and its share by 25 percent over last season. And the more male-skewing UPN has increased its rating among women 18-49 by 21 percent.
Generally aimed towards persons 12-34, both UPN and the WB are also up in ratings in older adult demographics. Among adults 25-54, the WBís rating has increased 6.3 percent versus last year, and UPNís rating is up 20 percent.
Ironically, this broader audience for the netlets has come at the cost of its traditional core teen audience. The WBís ratings among teens 12-17 are down 21 percent from last year, and UPNís are down 8 percent.
The WB and UPN can take heart that the teen defection holds true across almost all broadcast television. Season to date versus last season, the seven networks have lost a total of nearly 10 percent of the teen audience share, while cable has gained in share by 9 percent. Fox was the only broadcast network to gain rating and share over last season among teens.
Of course, one major cause of growth in cable this season, including among teens, was the unusual presidential election. CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC each saw their average adult 18-49 and teen 12-17 audiences grow over 200 percent from last season.
-Elizabeth White is a staff writer for Media Life.
© 2001 Media Life