Fading Ratings: Where TV Audience Size Will Increase in 2022

Fading Ratings
Cheyne Gateley/VIP+

The following is excerpted from Variety Intelligence Platform‘s special report “Fading Ratings,” which will be available exclusively to subscribers on Jan. 4, 2022. The report will provide an extensive analysis of changes in TV viewership among total audience as well as the key 18-49 demo.

For now, read VIP+’s “Fading Ratings” series leading up to it: part one, on changes in broadcast TV viewership; part two, about how the most watched cable shows came to be dominated by news; and part three, on the increase in peak TV to record highs. Subscribe to VIP+.

Fading Ratings” has highlighted some of the changes and shifts TV viewing is seeing as a result of the rise of streaming and increased competition broadcast and cable networks are seeing. Though the data paints a grim picture, here are three potential bright spots to look out for in 2022.

1. The End of Audience Decline for Awards Shows

One of TV’s biggest stories of 2021 was the tremendous decline in audience seen by marquee awards shows. The Golden Globes saw a total audience drop of -62% (-11.4 million viewers), the Grammys were down by -51% (-9.5 million), and the Oscars slid by -56% (-13.2 million viewers).

This seemed to spell doom for the year’s remaining awards shows, but then a miracle happened. The declines either softened or, in the case of the Emmys, actually increased (+1.4 million, or +22%). This suggests that the era of steep dives may be over, with awards shows beginning to find their new level.

Another trend to note is the move to either multicast cable awards shows on broadcast networks or to air them exclusively on network TV. In December, NBC moved the People’s Choice Awards away from its cable multicast of prior years on USA, Syfy, Bravo and E! to instead air on NBC and E! This resulted in a total audience of 4 million viewers, an increase of 2.9 million (or 259%) from 2020.

CBS will also be the exclusive home to the CMT Music Awards in 2022. If this results in a significant increase in viewers, expect to see other ViacomCBS awards, like the BET Awards and MTV VMAs, to at least be multicast on CBS.

2. More Specials on Broadcast TV

None of the most popular shows watched by 18-49s in fall 2021 on broadcast television were scripted or unscripted shows. That list is dominated by sports, but note that the highest-rated non-sporting title is “Adele: One Night Only” on CBS.

Given that CBS’ prior 2021 special “Oprah With Harry & Meghan,” pulled in a 2.72 18-49 demo rating — putting it behind only the NFL — it shows TV viewers will still turn up for event programming that can’t be missed, as social media will be abuzz with highlights.

Other networks will have noticed CBS’ success. Expect 2022 to see an increase in candid celebrity interviews as TV doubles down on a successful concept.

3. Slimmed-Down Pay-TV Bundles

When assessing what the top 1,000 rated cable shows of 2021 were, the dominance of three genres of content is striking. Sports, cable news and reality shows account for 91% of the top 1,000 when looking at the data among 18-49s.

While this is notable, it also offers an opportunity to MVPD and VMVPD service providers. The notion of a skinny bundle has long been proposed, with most VMVPDs beginning that way taking on more and more networks and suffering from channel and price bloating.

What this data suggests is that 18-49s remain highly interested in the three key genres. Offering a pay-TV package for just these three genres would likely do a lot to keep current 18-49s subscribing to cable TV in the system, and it may have a low enough price point to attract some cord-cutters or cord-nevers to pick up the package.

It’s clear by now that something needs to be done to stem the bleeding of cable subscribers. Current strategies aren’t working, as noted quarterly by VIP+, with the result being TV viewers are skewing increasingly over 50. The two options available are to do nothing and see subscriptions continue to trend down or to make a bold move to slow the decline. For the sake of cable, the latter should be considered.

Read the full special report