Ratings erosion not as bad as feared

Where did everybody go?

When the writers went on strike Nov. 5, the fear in the biz was that the major nets would have to hang out the “Gone Fishing” signs. As it turned out, exodus from the smallscreen wasn’t overly dramatic (not like those picket lines).

The combined viewership of the Big Four nets plus the CW dropped 9% for the Nov. 5-Feb. 12 duration of the strike compared to the same frame in 2006 and 2007. Cable viewing was up 5%.

But those ups and downs are in line with the broader trend of viewership shifting from broadcast to cable, and it’s worth noting that five broadcast nets averaged 38.5 million viewers while it took more than 40 ad-supported cable nets to aggregate 56.7 million viewers.

The real post-strike test for TV will come in a few months, when primetime’s heavy-hitters return with fresh segs. If “Desperate Housewives” draws significantly fewer than the nearly 19 million viewers it’s averaged so far this season, or “CSI” plunges from its perch of about 18 million viewers, then we’ll know America has moved on, or at least is exacting some revenge for all those extra-long, in-season cliffhangers.

A survey conducted in late November by online research firm OTX found most TV fans A) were aware of the strike and B) nearly half would stand by their favorite shows, even in reruns.

While waiting for the empirical evidence of the strike’s impact (or not) on viewing habits, it’s interesting to see that other leisure time-absorbing entertainment options saw an uptick during the strike frame.

Theatrical B.O. was up a healthy 7% (thank you “Cloverfield,” “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” “Juno”). And the number of folks who played online vidgames spiked 11% in January from the year-ago period.

Perhaps the most soothing stat for both sides of the WGA contract fight is the fact that online viewing of traditional TV programs shot up 25% in November compared to November 2006, according to a study by Canuck firm Solutions Research Group.

After all, wasn’t that what this strike was all about?

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