The American Music Awards hit an all time low last night. They were down a whopping 2.5 million to 9.5 million from 12 million last year and almost a full point in the demo (from a 4.3-3.4). Some are trying to explain away the drops as a result of the NFL airing opposite it, but the AMAs have aired on this night for the last 5 years and if anything, the other broadcast competition on Sunday has only weakened. One might point to the biggest show on TV currently, The Walking Dead which airs Sundays at 9p and suggest it siphoned off some audience, but that doesn’t explain why the 8pm hour of the AMAs was so low. Even accounting for some year to year dropoff, almost 3 million and a point in the demo? That’s an alarming drop.
Even nuttier is that a few weeks ago, one of TVs biggest award shows, the CMAs (after the Oscars and Grammys it’s next in line with the Golden Globes) also dropped alarmingly year to year. For the past few years, the CMA numbers have been very steady at a high 4 (last years ratings were a 4.8 and 16 million viewers). This year the show dropped 3 million viewers to 13 million and a full point in the demo to a 3.8. The show had aired on Wednesdays the last 5 years and was moved to Thursday this year due to all the network preemptions for debates and Election night coverage. It wouldn’t be crazy to expect it to get knocked down a few tenths since on Thursday it faces the mega hot, The Big Bang Theory, plus the NFL and there is clearly some audience sharing there with the CMAs, but again, 3 million and a full point? No way.
What’s more surprising is that in this DVR world we currently live in, where numbers shrink regularly year to year, the only thing still in the plus column are the big live viewing events like the aforementioned NFL and up until recently, Awards shows. Last years big award shows like The Oscars and The Golden Globes were in the ballpark of years before. The Grammys got Oscar like numbers for CBS last February (though much of that gain is likely attributed to the untimely death of Whitney Houston the night before). Even with the Oscars, which has been trending down the last decade or so, the decline has been gradual (except in extreme cases like when we went to war 5 days before the ceremony in 2003 and there was a severe drop). The numbers usually chip away year to year. There isn’t usually a full point, 3 million drop like the two ABC award shows this past month.
So does this mean that the bloom is off the Awards show rose and the only thing you can count on to be in the plus column anymore is the NFL? Well, maybe if you looked at the AMAs alone, but in the case of the CMAs it’s really questionable. This is an awards show that every network but FOX tried to steal away from ABC a year and a half ago. Country music is hot as ever. In fact, the same week that the CMAs aired, Taylor Swift sold 1.2 million copies of her new CD, Red. These are numbers that the recording industry rarely sees anymore. Yes, Taylor has transcended beyond just being a country artist, but she was a big part of the recent ceremony as were all the other titans of the country music industry. The huge year to year drop, frankly, makes little sense.
One thing both these awards shows have in common is that they both aired this month on ABC. A few of ABC shows have also had rather alarming drops this month. One of TVs biggest new dramas last year, Once Upon A Time, has spent most of its season in the mid 3′s (Its lowest score prior to last week was a 3.0 in early October). Prior to last week, its 3 week trend was 3.3-3.4-3.5. The last two weeks it was the biggest drama of the week in the demo. Last Sunday, out of nowhere, it dropped .8 to a 2.7. That 2.7 demo number was its lowest rating EVER. It’s kind of hard to fathom how they would suffer such a severe drop in 7 days. Looking at the number alone, one would assume it aired opposite a big awards show, or it aired on a holiday, where viewing patterns are disrupted. The only difference that week was that FOXs NFL game spilled over to the 8p hour (it ran til 8:20). Once Upon A Time has faced big NFL games all last fall and winter including the BCS Championship game and held up. This is a female skewing show on a female skewing network. There wouldn’t appear to be massive audience overlap, certainly not enough to knock a hit show down almost a point. Plus, the game ended at 8:20 and the 8:30 half hour barely rose.
Almost all of ABCs shows were down last week (the one exception being Scandal which rose .1 – essentially flat). Even their Wednesday comedies dropped including Modern Family and Suburgatory which was down .5 to tie its Halloween low. The truth is, shows drop more often than they go up these days in live viewing but yet amidst all of ABC s drops, CBSs shows were mostly all up last week, including The Big Bang Theory which rose .6 from the week before, for a new season high at a 5.7 and a new total viewer high at over 17 million. (Its previous season high was rather curiously on the one night this Fall when they had tougher competition - the night ABC aired the CMAs). In a matter of weeks, Modern Family and the Big Bang Theory went from being a few tenths apart to last week when The Big Bang Theory had a 1.1 advantage in the demo and 6 million viewers difference. Now I’m not suggesting that TBBT isn’t a huge hit. Before the season started I suggested it would be hitting 6′s regularly and be the biggest show on broadcast this season. (fall-preview-1-big-question-for-each-of-the-big-4). Plus looking at DVR numbers, Modern Family’s are a bit behind last year while TBBTs are on the rise. But it’s hard to look at ABCs Nielsen downturns all this month and not see that this is a pattern. For example: The Voice is NBCs biggest hit and its numbers have stayed consistent all season. The Big Bang Theory’s numbers last week are almost a point higher than their season premiere was this past September. Modern Family’s 4.6 last week, was its lowest number this season (excluding Halloween when it had a 4.2) and was almost a point behind its September season premiere (5.5) and is a point behind its numbers this time last year.
Nielsen numbers go up or down regularly, with their movements sometimes defying explanation, but surveying ABCs drops this past month – which included two big Award shows losing 3 million viewers and a full ratings point year to year and big shows dropping almost a point week to week, and its hard not to see that there is something amiss overall with the Nielsen numbers for ABC. Nielsen can’t be called on to explain every ratings anomaly – sometimes things just happen. But a bunch of crazy things on one network over a period of a few weeks, and that would seem to be cause for some kind of investigation.