ABC’s “Scandal” fell to a season low Thursday night, while CBS’ “Elementary” hovered near its nadir. And earlier in the week, even NBC’s “Blacklist” — the strongest and most consistent rookie this fall — was down a couple of ticks.
Fans of these shows have to be scratching their heads over why the ratings for their faves are falling even though they remain among TV’s buzziest shows and their perceived quality has remained consistent.
Big sports competition (especially from the NFL) is partly to blame, as scripted series typically take a back seat to live action in our DVR world. But it’s also because these series air at 10 p.m., and shows scheduled for this time are seeing record DVR playback this fall — at percentages much larger than those airing earlier in the evening.
The 2013-14 television season was already shaping up to be something of a tipping-point in DVR usage: Roughly 48% of Nielsen’s national sample is now comprised of homes equipped with DVRs, and among adults 18-49, that percentage is up to 51%. This means that more than half the audience the networks are targeting has the ability to time-shift their favorite programs.
Unlike reality shows and comedies that air in the 8 o’clock and 9 o’clock hours, dramas in general see higher gains in time-shifting. And it only stands to reason that the shows airing at 10 p.m., and thus having less time to be watched before Nielsen’s 3 a.m. “same-night” cutoff, are going to suffer the most in ratings that come out the next day.
This year, FX’s first-year drama “The Bridge” (which aired Wednesday at 10) became the first show to derive more than half of its 18-49 audience from DVR playback done in the seven days after its linear airing. But based on the trend this fall, it won’t be long before 10 p.m. series on ABC, CBS and NBC start gaining 100% or more too.
If “DVR Playback” was a show, this fall it would be averaging a 6.8 rating in adults 18-49 from 10 to 11 p.m. — about double the rating of top shows in the hour like “The Blacklist,” “Scandal” and “Duck Dynasty” — and 14.1 million total viewers.
Most primetime series tend to post their best numbers of the season with their premiere, and that’s the night when more viewing than usual is done live or later the same night. As high a priority isn’t placed on watching subsequent episodes in the same manner, and this can drive down the ratings fans see the day after a show airs.
This fall, according to Nielsen data compiled by CBS, 10 p.m. programs on average are posting the largest percentage lifts of any broadcast series (41%). By comparison, the rise is 29% for programs airing in the 9 p.m. hour, and 21% for 8 o’clock shows.
Six dramas airing at 10 p.m. are gaining more than 1 full ratings point in adults 18-49 this fall, up from four a year ago. And in total viewers, four 10 p.m. dramas are rising by 4 million viewers or more, up from just one last year.
Through the four weeks of the season for which L+7 data is available, CBS’ “Elementary” is the biggest 18-49 gainer among 10 p.m. shows by percentage (rising 78%), and NBC’s “Blacklist” is the biggest by total lift (1.9 ratings points).
BIGGEST 10 P.M. DRAMA GAINERS BY %
Elementary (CBS) 1.9 3.4 78%
Hostages (CBS) 1.4 2.4 71%
Parenthood (NBC) 1.4 2.4 71%
Nashville (ABC) 1.8 3.0 67%
The Mentalist (CBS) 1.4 2.3 64%
The Blacklist (NBC) 3.3 5.2 58%
Castle (ABC) 2.2 3.4 55%
Person of Interest (CBS) 2.1 3.2 52%
Chicago Fire (NBC) 2.4 3.6 50%
CSI (CBS) 2.0 3.0 50%
Parenthood (NBC) 4.27m 6.72m 58%
Elementary (CBS) 9.29m 14.08m 52%
The Blacklist (NBC) 11.51m 17.37m 51%
Hostages (CBS) 5.93m 8.89m 50%
Nashville (ABC) 6.02m 8.92m 48%
Chicago Fire (NBC) 8.29m 11.77m 42%
Castle (ABC) 11.00m 15.28m 39%
Scandal (ABC) 9.68m 13.35m 38%
Betrayal (ABC) 3.86m 5.32m 38%
The Mentalist (CBS) 8.83m 12.08m 37%
bolded shows are seeing the biggest total lifts