The plight of broadcast TV prospects has been woeful for years already. Cord-cutting - while acknowledged and battled for some time - has actually accelerated in the past couple of years. The carriage dispute between Disney and Spectrum in the fall of 2023 reflected this, as the cable provider was not attempting to strongarm the entertainment giant; it simply could not afford any higher fees due to customer flight.
With more people jumping to streaming, the four major networks have experienced a severe erosion, with the annual top series-- outside of sports programming--not able to average more than 10 million viewers per episode. Things were made worse with the Hollywood strike, diminishing new content, but over the past years football has ruled, and in 2023, that turned into sheer domination. Look at this ratings statistic:
Of the top 100-rated broadcasts in 2023, according to Nielsen, 93 of those were NFL games!
The overtaking of the airwaves is even more remarkable when you see that the few programs that managed to worm onto the list were special broadcasts. Three NCAA football games got in there, as did the Super Bowl postgame coverage. So, apart from that sport, all else you will find is three differing entries: The State Of The Union Address, The Oscars, and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The visual is just staggering.
It's the NFL's world... we all just live in it pic.twitter.com/2ZhiAakbxA— Lev Akabas (@LevAkabas) January 5, 2024
This makes it, for the first time, that one sport occupied the top 100 in a year. The closest other competitions managed were the NCAA Basketball Final at 101st position, the Kentucky Derby landed at 106th, and the highest NBA Finals game came in at 130th. As for broadcast TV offerings, they’d rather we don’t look into the matter.
The best you can get for scheduled fare is “60 Minutes,” which averages around eight to nine million per episode. Those figures are boosted in the fall, with its NFL lead-in driving it close to 10 million per broadcast. Even so, it lands at 136th position for the year. The Hollywood strike meant that no scripted programming even managed to land in the top 200. The highest-ranking dramatic show to be found was “Yellowstone” (a repeat of the show that originated on the Paramount+ streaming platform), debuting on CBS, with just under seven million in audience.
But trying to blame the strike is ineffective, as this football saturation has been in effect for years. Data reporter Lev Akabas gives us pie charts from the past four years, displaying this audience flight and the outright dependence on the NFL that networks have to retain any substantial viewership.
93 of the top 100 most-watched TV shows of 2023 were NFL games, shattering the all-time record— Lev Akabas (@LevAkabas) January 5, 2024
Expect that number to go down in 2024 with the presidential election & Olympics pic.twitter.com/XwgYxu1VBT
While all of this does not exactly show that broadcast TV is dead, it has become a dramatic wasteland, and it explains why so many studios are sinking billions into the new streaming format. That few, if any, have managed to find a way to stop losing billions in the process is another matter entirely…