It has been a wild and in some cases wacky season for network TV, culminating in a hunt for millions of missing viewers that is so complicated that it’s worthy of its own episode of “CSI.”
At the beginning of the season, Nielsen Media Research introduced “most current” ratings, totaling the audiences that watch a show live as well as those that record it on a DVR and watch it up to seven days later. But even with those additional viewers counted this season, primetime television viewing dropped significantly compared with last season.
The steepest decline was in live viewership, which fell 10% year-over-year among the four major broadcast networks. Adding in DVR viewership, which can boost shows’ ratings by as much as 25% or more, the Big Four were still down 5%.
NBC research chief Alan Wurtzel doesn’t think that there’s a mass departure of network TV viewers. It’s just that there are more choices and people are consuming media differently.
“It may well be that for a lot of people they don’t feel the need to be there day-and-date for conventional television anymore,” he said. “I do not believe that people aren’t interested in television. That doesn’t make any sense.”
NBC is asking Nielsen to look into its measurement to make sure that there’s nothing hinky there, like a few years ago when young male viewership dropped precipitously. Nielsen said it’s looking into NBC’s concerns and plans to report to its clients before the Memorial Day holiday.
“What we’ve found is that people aren’t watching less TV this season, they’re watching slightly less live television,” a Nielsen spokesman said.