2021 TV ratings see huge drop from 2015 viewership


The 18-49 age group is one of the most important demographics for the entertainment audience. This is considered the target audience for, well, pretty much everything. If you can get young people and middle aged adults to watch your shows, specials, and programs, then you are in a great place. This means bad news for broadcast television networks. CBS, Fox, ABC, and NBC all saw a big drop in broadcast ratings in 2021 compared to their 2015 audiences. This can make sense when considering the move to streaming and subscription TV. Still, the drop is much larger than even some industry analysts expected. For more on these intriguing findings, let’s take a look at what the numbers are saying on broadcast television.

Television ratings for 2021 are approximate compared to just six years ago

Image Credit: CBS

Around 2015, people started cutting the cord of their cable provider. Viewers have migrated from traditional premium satellite and cable companies to the world of streaming. Netflix, Prime Video, and Hulu seemed like a better deal. Plus, you could watch whatever you wanted anytime, in many cases ad-free. The world of television broadcasting is not going anywhere, but it will certainly have to be reckoned with a huge drop in audiences. Variety VIP + reported on a series of recent statistics which indicate the waning influence of networks like CBS, Fox, ABC and NBC. Here is what we found out.

For the fall programming lineup from September 21 to November 22, the four major broadcast networks experienced a significant drop in viewership in 2021 compared to 2015. The report provided free to online readers examined the programming of 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on all four networks. Breakdown by day, decrease in the number of viewers by more than 70%. The days with major sports on TV Thursday, Saturday and Sunday saw the smallest drops in ratings. It continues to prove the power of sports in people who maintain some sort of cable connection, be it a cable plan or a satellite.

In 2015, four of the ten most watched programs in this date range were sporting events. In 2021, that number has doubled. Additionally, none of the top 25 TV shows in 2015 reached less than 1.91 million viewers. In 2021, only 10 programs crossed the milestone of one million viewers. One of the main findings of the differences between broadcast television in 2021 and 2015 is the decrease in scripted content. Many reality shows, news, sports or live performances continue to do well on these networks. Scripted content, however, has largely moved to streaming platforms; or at least their audience did.

Where do the major networks go from here?

TV reviews broadcast in 2021 Image Credit: NBCUniversal

If you use CBS, Fox, ABC, or NBC, what do you think of all of this? First, the people who run these networks are much more interested than I am in the inner workings of the industry. That said, the numbers don’t lie. Sport continues to have a dominant hold on popular culture in the United States. Of course, that doesn’t change as long as broadcast networks sign deals to broadcast these events. This is slowly changing as Peacock takes hold of things like the Premier League and even the WWE Network. The same goes for Amazon Prime Video, which recently started streaming Thursday Night Football. There are rumors that Amazon is aiming to take over Sunday Ticket, the streaming platform for all NFL games, from DirectTV.

Recently, one of the top performing shows on TV was a TV special featuring Adele. In addition, shows like The voice and The masked singer continue to do well. People seem to love reality TV not only for its content, but also for the pleasure of watching the results of a contest live and in real time with others. It is the same reason why sport continues to do well; nobody wants to watch the game after everyone knows who won.

If broadcasting continues to decline in its ratings among viewers aged 18 to 49, we will likely see more investment in these types of programs. The odds are so different from just six years ago. You could bet that the programming itself will undergo other changes in the future. If you’ve still subscribed to cable or a satellite dish TV package, let us know what you think of these results. By the way, the cable cutters: tell us what you miss and don’t miss about access to live television.

Thanks for reading Comic Years for all things TV, comics, and pop culture.

Taylor enjoys playing video games in her spare time. He has two degrees in political communication and wrote his thesis on Marxism and the exploitation of varsity athletes. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two miniature Australian Shepherds. He still has headphones on and is a die-hard Cubs fan.


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