The 2013-14 television season has officially bit the dust and, like the one before it, the nine months that just passed were marked by steep viewership declines for most of the broadcast networks. Factoring out the Olympic-size boost NBC got from the Sochi games, the Big Four managed to collectively average a 9.6 rating among viewers under 50, down about 10 percent from last year’s combined 10.1 rating in the key demo. While the Peacock reversed a decade of decline and actually grew 4 percent (even more if you include the Olympics), all the other networks’ core schedules continued to bleed young viewers. And just like last season, the networks once again launched very few hits; NBC’s The Blacklist, Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, and ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were the only three newcomers that might be called unqualified successes. To really grasp how quickly audiences are fleeing from broadcast TV, however, you need to drill down into the ratings for returning shows, where the hemorrhaging resembles an episode of Game of Thrones.
As we did last year, Vulture has collected the primetime averages for 75 returning shows from the Big Four and the CW and calculated how much each program’s audience of adult viewers under 50 either increased or decreased (or, in a few cases, stayed the same). Click on the expandable chart below and you’ll see that, once again, the vast majority of series lost ground. Stunningly, roughly 40 shows declined by at least 10 percent, while more than 20 lost a quarter (or more!) of their audience in a single season. Such red ink makes the ten shows that actually grew in viewership this past season almost heroic; interestingly, four of the ten gainers are produced by just two producers: Shonda Rhimes and Dick Wolf. (There’s a reason both producers are millionaires many times over.) What’s also telling is that, despite the sea of red, only eight existing series got the hook by season’s end: Community, The Carrie Diaries, The Neighbors, Nikita, Raising Hope, Revolution, Suburgatory, and The X-Factor. This isn’t a sign of patience on the part of broadcasters as much as it is an acknowledgment that, for now, at least, big viewership declines are par for the course.
NOTES: Our chart is based on Nielsen data comparing all available viewing data for the season through last Sunday against Nielsen's final measurement for the 2012–13 season. We used so-called "live plus seven" data for adult viewers between the ages of 18 and 49, which means this data does include DVR replays. It doesn't account for folks who caught up on a show via video on demand a few weeks after an episode aired, or who binged a bunch of episodes on iTunes or Amazon.