year in culture 2013

What Show Had the Richest Audience? What Do Dog Owners Watch? A Deep Dive Into 2013’s TV Ratings

Photo: Maya Robinson and Photos by ABC, CBS, AMC, FX and FOX

If you’ve been paying even a little bit of attention to TV ratings in 2013, you know the year’s biggest trends: Cable continues to steal audience share from broadcast with megahits such as The Walking Dead and Duck Dynasty; DVRs are more important than ever; and America loves it some CBS. Dive deeper into the 2013 Nielsen ratings, however, and interesting things are revealed: Cable is starting to cannibalize itself; niche hits are multiplying; and the difference between what young and old viewers watch is astounding. Vulture gathered up reams of ratings data and started digging in. Read on to see the 25 things we discovered about What We Watched in 2013.

Some housekeeping notes: This story is based on Nielsen data supplied to Vulture by multiple broadcast and cable networks. Except where otherwise noted, figures cited or referenced include both live viewing and viewing that takes place within seven days after a program airs. In most cases, numbers are for first-run broadcasts of shows (i.e., no reruns) and include telecasts through November; network averages are through early December. Rankings include shows that aired at least two episodes in 2013; specials, sports broadcasts, and movies aren’t included (sorry, Lifetime and Hallmark Channel). We combed through pages and pages of Nielsen data and checked our numbers carefully. All the cool shows on Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu aren’t mentioned because they don’t tell us who watches what. Still, everybody watched Orange Is the New Black, right? This story is valid for viewers in the 48 continental states and Canada. Do not operate heavy machinery while reading this story. If the numbers reported here result in nausea or an exploding head because you just can’t believe your fellow humans watch that show, stop reading immediately and consult your health-care professional.

First, let’s address the very unsurprising overall ratings champion, CBS, whose TV dominance is pretty thorough. The network will finish 2013 as the No. 1 network in total viewers and adults under 50, and it boasts TV’s No. 1 comedy (The Big Bang Theory) and three most-watched dramas, which all air the same night: Tuesday’s NCIS (23.3 million viewers, including DVR replays), NCIS: LA (18.2 million), and Person of Interest (17.4 million). In terms of overall broadcast audience, ABC ends the year in second place, just a tick ahead of third-place NBC; Fox is a distant fourth. Among viewers under 50, NBC and Fox are tied for second, with ABC in fourth. Photo: Cliff Lipson/©2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved
The Peacock has lost the most audience in 2013 versus 2012: It’s down 20 percent in viewers and 25 percent among those under 50. (Not having the Summer Olympics and Super Bowl made a big difference.) With American Idol fading, Fox had the next biggest decline, losing 13 percent in total viewers and 16 percent among viewers under 50. As for the other nets: CBS added 5 percent in viewers and was flat in the demo (having the Super Bowl this year helped a lot), while ABC is down 3 percent in viewers and 5 percent among adults under 50. And let’s hear it for the little CW: After years of decline, its overall audience is up 13 percent versus 2012 (and the same in the demo).
Despite headaches for some of the top nets (see slide six), cable’s biggest hits are getting bigger: Five of the year’s top 25 shows among viewers under 50 were on cable. AMC had two big 18 to 49 hits, with The Walking Dead (No. 1 in all of TV) and Breaking Bad (No. 13); ditto FX, with American Horror Story: Coven (No. 18) and Sons of Anarchy (No. 21). A&E’s Duck Dynasty was the No. 3 show on TV in 2013, outrating Modern Family, The Voice, and American Idol. Overall, cable’s share of the under-50 audience reached a new high in 2013 (70 percent), with the Big Four down three percentage points from 2012 to collectively capturing just 30 percent of viewing in the demo. The demo most likely to make cable shows a big hit? Men under 35. Five of TV’s top ten entertainment shows in the dude-bro demo belong to cable: The Walking Dead (No. 1), Breaking Bad (No. 2), Duck Dynasty (No. 3), South Park (No. 6), and Game of Thrones (No. 9).
The demo still waving the broadcast flag (and thus most likely to shun cable) is women age 25 to 54. The only cable show on their top ten list is The Walking Dead, which just makes it at No. 10. By contrast, three shows that don’t make the top ten among all adults 18 to 49 — The Voice results show, NCIS, and Scandal — are all still squarely in the top ten for this older-female demo. The most popular show with women 25 to 54? CBS’s The Big Bang Theory, with Grey’s Anatomy in second.
The Walking Dead rightly gets lots of headlines for beating everything else on TV among viewers under 50. But some other cable shows regularly trounce network competition in their respective time slots. The most current season of FX’s Sons of Anarchy, for example, won the 10 p.m. time slot on a regular basis among viewers under 50, beating ABC’s various programs by 221 percent, CBS’s Person of Interest by 46 percent, and NBC’s Chicago Fire by 12 percent. Likewise, FX’s American Horror Story: Coven has been beating its network rivals Wednesdays at ten. It can’t top everything, though: When A&E airs a fresh episode of Duck Dynasty, Coven and everything else in the time slot become sitting ducks. The 23 original episodes of Duck aired in 2013 averaged 13.3 million viewers; among viewers under 50, only The Walking Dead and Big Bang drew a bigger crowd.
While cable continues to take away viewers from broadcast, the biggest cable networks are now seeing their audiences cannibalized as well. Fully half of the ten most-watched cable nets in 2013 saw prime-time viewership decline: USA (-8 percent), History (-2 percent), TNT (-2 percent), ESPN (-7 percent), and Fox News (-14 percent). A&E, which saw its overall audience jump 10 percent this year, had the best performance of any of the top ten nets in overall viewership. Among the 50 biggest cablers, Oprah Winfrey’s OWN claimed bragging rights, with its audience jumping 27 percent from 2012. And among younger viewers, AMC was 2013’s growth story: It grew 41 percent with viewers under 35 and 30 percent with those under 50. 
In addition to being TV’s No. 1 comedy (by a mile), reruns of CBS’s Chuck Lorre–Bill Prady comedy juggernaut actually draw more viewers (9.5 million, if you’re counting) than all but one other first-run comedies on TV (Modern Family originals average 14.5 million viewers). Meanwhile, the average total audience for first-run episodes of Big Bang Theory — 22,373,000 — is virtually equal to the combined audience of cable’s nine most-watched sitcoms: South Park, The Game, Real Husbands of Hollywood, Cougar Town, Sullivan & Son, Archer, Hot in Cleveland, Key & Peele, and Workaholics. (For numbers geeks, those nine shows add up to 22,633,000 viewers.) What’s more, if you add up the 18 to 49 adults audience for Comedy Central’s five biggest shows (South Park, Workaholics, Key & Peele, Futurama, Brickleberry, and Inside Amy Schumer), you’re still a couple hundred thousand viewers short of the 9.5 million adults 18 to 49 that Big Bang averaged in 2013. Bazinga, indeed. Photo: Michael Yarish/© 2013 WBEI. All rights reserved.
Mark Burnett’s The Bible was cable’s No. 1 new show in 2013, both in viewers and adults under 50. Other newbies that cracked cable’s top ten in overall audience: Vikings, King & Maxwell, Bates Motel, Graceland, Devious Maids, The Legend of Shelby the Swamp Man, Catfish, The Bridge, and The Americans. All will be back for second seasons, save for King & Maxwell: Despite its huge audience, it skewed too old for TNT. (Yup, demos matter.) Speaking of demos, among viewers under 35, MTV’s Catfish was the top new cable show of 2013, just edging out The Bible. (If you consider AHS: Coven a totally new show, however, it outrated both in the demo.)
… is clearly Blacklist. Yes, it’s still early, it hasn’t aired away from The Voice yet, and we all remember what happened to Revolution. (Refresher course: NBC hyped it as a huge hit a year ago last fall, but when the show moved away from The Voice, it totally tanked.) Despite those caveats, Blacklist has all the hallmarks of becoming a game-changing hit for NBC. It’s drawing more total viewers than The Walking Dead, and it will end 2013 as the No. 5 show on all of TV among viewers under 50, outrating the combined spring and fall averages of The Voice and Fox’s American Idol. It does well with both men and women. And while it’s getting big same-day ratings, it’s also setting records with its DVR replays. (That’s the best of all worlds.) Overall, Blacklist is NBC’s most-watched new show since The Apprentice debuted in 2004 and its most-watched new drama since ER bowed in 1994. Even if it fades a bit next year, it’s shaping up to be the kind of show that runs 200 episodes. The other top newcomers among adults under 50: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Sleepy Hollow, The Following, and Under the Dome. All five dramas ended up among the top 25 shows of the year with younger viewers (and that’s combining broadcast and cable). Photo: NBC/2013 NBCUniversal Media, LLC
Viewers’ ability to time-shift continues to play a crucial role in getting them hooked on newer shows. Four of the ten most DVR’d broadcast series among viewers under 50 this year were freshmen: Blacklist, S.H.I.E.L.D., Sleepy Hollow, and The Following. Each added more than 1.5 ratings points to their overnight ratings after seven days of time-shifted viewing were factored in, with overall ratings jumping between 40 and 70 percent. If you just look at how many viewers time-shifted a show at all this year — even if only by an hour or two — the impact on new shows is even more evident: All of the aforementioned newbies, plus Under the Dome, added more than 5 million viewers thanks to DVR replays. Among broadcasters, ABC and CBS benefit most from DVRs: Of the 25 biggest DVR gainers among viewers under 50, eighteen are on those two networks (each has nine shows on the list). As impressive as those stats are, the cable numbers are even more stunning. FX’s The Bridge saw the 18 to 49 adult audience for each of its episodes jump 105 percent — essentially doubling — after replays were tallied.
While DVRs still drive the most delayed viewing, cable video on demand is becoming increasingly important. We usually don’t know how shows are doing on VOD since Nielsen doesn’t regularly report that information (and it’s harder to track, since there are so many different cable systems). But the nation’s largest cable operator, Comcast, says that PBS’s Downton Abbey was 2013’s most-watched show on their system. According to a report set to be released later this week (Vulture got an exclusive first look), the No. 2 show on the Xfinity on Demand platform this year was The Blacklist, followed by HBO’s Game of Thrones, Sleepy Hollow, and The Walking Dead. In terms of new shows, in addition to Blacklist and Sleepy, the most-watched VOD shows included CBS’s Under the Dome, A&E’s Bates Motel, and History’s The Bible. 
CBS’s Sunday drama landed on all sorts of year-end critics’ lists. And it does pretty well in overall audience — with 11.7 million viewers this year, it ranks No. 36 among all TV shows, broadcast and cable. But among viewers 18 to 49, the demo advertisers really value, the show finished at No. 106; it falls all the way down to No. 223 among viewers under 35. What’s more, all the young dudes who watch Sunday football on CBS can’t run away from it fast enough: Of Good Wife’s overall audience of 11.7 million viewers, just 259,000 are men under 35. More young men watched ABC’s short-lived reality flop Splash (279,000) and NBC’s Betty White–hosted Off Their Rockers (269,000). Photo: David M. Russell/CBS
Among African-American adult viewers under 50, Scandal is the No. 1 non-sports show on broadcast, doubling the numbers of the No. 2 show of 2013 (American Idol) and nearly tripling the ratings of the No. 3 show, lead-in Grey’s Anatomy. Among Latinos and Asians under 50, however, comedy rules: The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family finish No. 1 and 2, respectively. (By contrast, those two comedies don’t even crack the top twenty with African-Americans.) Among the major networks, Fox does particularly well with minority audiences: It has seven of the top twenty shows with African-Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos. Photo: Ron Tom/ABC
In 2012, ABC canceled Cougar Town, convinced it could do better than a comedy that was averaging 2.4 million viewers under the age of 50. In 2013, the show moved to TBS, and its audience got smaller: It averaged 1.7 million in the 18-49 demo (2.4 million total). And yet, here’s the ironic part: That smaller demo number on TBS still ended up being bigger than a slew of shows ABC aired in 2013 instead of Cougar Town: Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition (1.6 million), the five episodes of Happy Endings that ABC aired on Fridays at 8 (1.6 million), the ABC News show What Would You Do? (1.6 million), the once-mighty game show Wipeout (1.5 million), drama series Motive (1.5 million), comedy bomb Family Tools (1.4 million), and the Anthony Edwards dud Zero Hour (1 million). Cougar Town might not have been a huge hit for ABC, but its move to TBS proved it had a loyal audience — one that ABC lost out on when it gave up on the show.
ABC’s decision to target female viewers is paying off. As noted earlier, among all adults under 50, ABC ends the year in fourth place. But with women under 50, the network is a very close second, behind only CBS. And with even young women — those under 35 — the Alphabet boasts three of the five biggest shows on network TV: Grey’s Anatomy, Modern Family, and Scandal. It’s probably only a matter of time before ABC just decides to put Shonda Rhimes in charge of all programming. Photo: Richard Foreman/ABC; Ron Tom/ABC
Remember Charlie Sheen? You know, the “winning” guy? In 2012, the first ten episodes of his FX comedy Anger Management averaged an impressive 2.3 million viewers under 50. It was the No. 2 comedy on all of cable. This year, his audience collapsed: On average, around 900,000 under 50 viewers are still watching — a little more than one third of Sheen’s 2012 audience. FX bought Anger on the cheap, and it will probably still make money off the many repeats of the show it will air in the coming years. But in terms of pop-culture visibility, Sheen’s show pretty much fell off the radar in 2013. Given how Sheen acted when he had the spotlight, maybe a little less visibility isn’t such a bad thing. Photo: Copyright 2013, FXNetworks
Here’s why your grandparents are always complaining about their favorite shows getting canceled: Among viewers over 55, Vegas, Body of Proof, and Golden Boy were among the top 25 broadcast shows on TV in 2013. They didn’t crack the top 75 among viewers under 55, however. All three were canceled.
It was a tough year for American Idol, but one constituency is sticking by the show: Idol outrated The Voice among kids 2 to 11 this year. And in terms of all viewers, May’s Idol finale was seen by 15.7 million viewers — easily outdrawing September’s slightly more buzzed-about series finale of Breaking Bad, which tallied 12.4 million viewers once DVR replays were added in.
ABC’s Modern Family had the most affluent audience of any broadcast show in 2013, with its viewers boasting a median income of $82,400. The show with the lowest median income? The CW’s short-lived game show Oh Sit! Still, wealthy-ish folks make bad viewing choices, too: After Modern Family, the TV show with the second richest audience profile was NBC’s Smash, whose audience boasted a median income of $81,100. Other shows whose viewers had a median income over $75,000 (in descending order of wealth): The Amazing Race, Fringe, The Bachelorette, The Good Wife, Happy Endings, The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, 60 Minutes, Don’t Trust the B— in Apt. 23, and Suburgatory. As for lower income shows, the series with audiences making do with median incomes of $45,000 or lower (in addition to Oh Sit!): American Dad, Cops, Perfect Score, and The Cleveland Show.
Fox has some of the youngest-skewing shows on network TV. All of its Sunday-night toons boast viewers whose median age is 34 or younger (with The Cleveland Show skewing youngest, 31 years old). New Girl (34) and The Mindy Project (35) are the youngest-skewing live-action shows on the Big 4; the CW’s The Carrie Diaries (34) and The Vampire Diaries (34) are similarly bereft of older viewers. Some shows you’d expect to have a more youthful audience still have plenty of Gen-Xers and above watching, though. The median age of the Glee viewer is now 41; CW’s Arrow is up to 48 (two years older than that of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). And then there are shows that are just as old as you’d expect: Viewers of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars have a median age of 61. Among network shows, only Blue Bloods (62) skews older. By contrast, TV’s biggest show — The Walking Dead — has a median age of 33. (Which, you’ll note, is the same age Jesus was when he rose from dead. Coincidence? Or biblically foretold?) Photo: FOX; Patrick Harbron/CW
Without The Office, 30 Rock, and Up All Night on its air this fall, NBC was pretty sure it would get a big bump in viewers. Just the opposite happened, with the Peacock suffering double-digit declines versus already-anemic year-ago averages. And the Peacock’s new Thursday lineup of Must-Family TV didn’t just lose eyeballs, it lost young viewers, leaving its audience both smaller and older. In the 9 to 10 p.m. hour, Sean Saves the World and The Michael J. Fox Show have median ages of 51, making them more than a decade older than Office and Parks (which each had a median age of 36 earlier this year). And it’s not just Thursday. Almost all of NBC’s new shows this fall skew older than the shows they replaced, with one exception: Friday’s Dracula is a bit younger than Dateline. While this isn’t altogether a bad thing — in the case of a show like Blacklist, it just means more people are watching NBC and pushing up the median age — in general, advertisers prefer shows with younger skews. Photo: NBC/2013 NBCUniversal Media, LLC
Believe it or not, Nielsen actually breaks out viewership in homes with dogs. For the most part, doggie homes with owners age 18 to 49 tend to watch shows a bit more than the general populace. A few shows, though, have notably lower under-50 demo ratings in dog homes. Scandal, for instance, averaged a 4.2 demo rating this year in all TV homes, but just a 3.5 in canine homes. Community, Parks and Rec, and the now-deceased 30 Rock also do worse in homes with dogs. No word yet on how shows do in homes boasting dogs with a blog. Photo: Eric McCandless/© 2013 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
Plenty of people have caught up through repeats and VOD, but in its initial run, BBC America’s Orphan Black drew a very small crowd: Just 661,000 viewers on average. But it’s hardly the only highly praised cable effort to struggle for eyeballs. IFC’s most recent season of Portlandia drew only 514,000 viewers last winter. Its numbers are gigantic, however, compared to some of the net’s other comedy offerings: Maron averages 187,000 viewers with first-run episodes, while Comedy Bang Bang settled for 122,000. (To put that in context: Nearly 1,300 other shows in 2013 had a bigger audience than Comedy Bang Bang.) And maybe subtitles do keep viewers away: Despite stellar reviews, the French drama The Returned averaged only 174,000 viewers for its first four episodes. That’s around one percent of the viewership for that other zombie show airing on Sundance’s sister net, AMC.
Thankfully, viewers also reject crappy shows. NBC’s Do No Harm averaged 698,000 viewers under 50, ranking No. 465 among all TV series in 2013. As far as we can tell, it was the least-watched scripted broadcast show in the demo. ABC’s Saturday game show Bet on Your Baby appears to be the least-watched of all Big 4 unscripted shows, with 657,000 viewers in the demo. Include the CW, and the least-watched unscripted show on broadcast was Capture, which averaged 479,000 viewers under 50. It ranked No. 611.
If you watched a show called Reno or Relocate this year, consider yourself very special: Almost nobody else in America did. Through its first six episodes, the Discovery Fitness and Health series has averaged just 8,000 viewers, making it the least-watched of the 1,351 national broadcast and cable series our ratings sources tallied. In case you’re wondering, the show has nothing to do with the city in Nevada: “Reno” stands for “renovate.” The more you know …
A Surprising Look at 2013’s TV Ratings