Networks hope for audience return to fiction
The election’s over and the cable newsies will soon be scrambling to fill air time once again. So, could this be good news for some struggling broadcasters?While the broadcast biz has suffered through a lethargic autumn, it’s been a banner fall for cable news. Fox News Channel was the top-rated cable network in primetime for most of September and October, and competitors CNN and MSNBC surged as well. It’s reasonable to assume that at least some of the viewers who gravitated toward Anderson Cooper, Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann will now be looking for some good old fashioned scripted storytelling. Sure, the audience for cable news is generally regarded as older, but that changed some this fall. According to Nielsen, while the Big Four have seen their combined 18-49 delivery this fall decline by 1.9 ratings points (11.9 vs. 13.8), the combined rating for the cable news nets has spiked by 1.1 points (1.7 vs. 0.6). Also, the average median age for the cable news nets in primetime has drifted down — to 59.3 years from 61.5 years at this time in 2007. Digging deeper, Nielsen also reports a notable increase in audience duplication between the broadcast networks and the cable news nets. The percentage of regular broadcast viewers who watched at least one hour of the cable news nets has jumped from 26% last fall to 33% this fall. All of this could be especially good news for ABC and NBC. Ratings for these nets’ serialized skeins like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Heroes” and “Dirty Sexy Money” are off sharply — perhaps a sign that auds found the action more compelling on “As the Election Turns.” ABC and NBC also draw the most upscale and educated viewers among the broadcast nets, the same aud that tends to be drawn to cable news. While the Alphabet and Peacock have struggled this fall, CBS has surprised many by ascending to first place among adults 18-49 — primarily by holding steady while its rivals have crumbled. The Eye has climbed to the top of the heap by sticking to its “comfort food” shows that revolve around cops putting away the bad guys and comedies with familiar beats. These skeins have proven very popular among adults of all ages, but they’re not all that big with upscale, educated crowds. It’s also worth noting that CBS lags behind ABC and NBC in news ratings, so it doesn’t figure to pick up as many straying viewers as its rivals — and its core aud was less likely to flee in the first place. There’s no way to know for sure if the news nets can hold on to some of their new viewers or if these auds will eventually find their way back to their broadcast faves. People, after all, aren’t going to suddenly become fans of “Pushing Daisies” or “Lipstick Jungle” just because the election is over. But it will be worth keeping an eye on upcoming weeks if programs on ABC and NBC start gaining ground on their CBS counterparts.