CBS can rightfully boast about winning another season in the ratings, but really all it did was stand still.
When the 2012-13 TV season, as measured by Nielsen, ends on Wednesday (May 22), the Eye will have locked up its 10th victory among total viewers in the past 11 years. For the first time in eight seasons, CBS is also the adults 18-49 leader, breaking FOX’s streak atop the demographic heap.
In a year when it had the Super Bowl to boost its numbers, CBS improved a scant 1 percent in total viewers (11.86 million vs. 11.75 million in 2011-12) and fell slightly in adults 18-49 (2.9 from 3.0), based on the most recent Nielsen averages. CBS still would have been No. 1 even without the Super Bowl, but nonetheless it didn’t really grow its audience much.
This season, though, not falling is something of an achievement. NBC had the smallest dropoff of the other big four nets, falling by about 400,000 viewers (7.38 million to 6.96 million) and a tenth of a point among adults 18-49 (2.5 to 2.4). The network aired the Super Bowl last year, so the absence of that massive audience accounts for part of the drop, and NBC notes it’s closer to second place in adults 18-49 than it’s been in any year since 2003-04, when it last led the 18-49 rankings.
ABC and FOX may be in even worse shape than NBC. Although ABC remains second in viewers (7.85 million, down from 8.36 million this time last season), it fell to fourth place in adults 18-49 with a 2.2 rating, down from 2.4 this time last year. FOX has fallen the hardest, losing 1.8 million viewers (7.06 million now, 8.87 million to this point last season) and seven-tenths of a point in adults 18-49 (3.2 to 2.5).
The CW, meanwhile, grew its total audience slightly (1.78 million, up from 1.71 million a year ago) but has dipped slightly in adults 18-49 (0.8 to 0.7).
Amid the generally bad situation the networks find themselves in, there are still some individual shows that can point to some proud moments this season. And others that, well, can’t. Here are some of the ratings winners and losers for 2012-13.
“The Big Bang Theory.” The already very popular comedy took a quantum leap this season, growing by 18 percent in viewers (to 18.68 million, up from 15.82 million in 2011-12) and 13 percent in the 18-49 demographic (from 5.5 to 6.2). It’s the No. 1 scripted show on broadcast TV in the 18-49 demo (and trails only “Sunday Night Football” among all shows) and third overall in viewers, behind “SNF” and “NCIS.”
“The Voice.” Rolling out two cycles of the show in a season — and replacing two judges for the second one — didn’t hurt NBC’s singing competition. Its 18-49 rating for the Monday shows are down from last season, but basically even if you factor out the post-Super Bowl airing last year. The Tuesday edition’s numbers have actually risen, and “The Voice” has made NBC competitive again on the nights it airs.
“Scandal.” The ABC series had buzz to spare in its second season — and it wasn’t just hot air. “Scandal” aired just seven episodes last season, averaging 8.7 million viewers and a 2.6 rating in adults 18-49 in Nieslen’s Live +7 ratings. Through 20 of its 22 episodes this season, the Live +7 numbers (originals only) are 9.9 million viewers and a 3.4 demo rating, improvements of 14 percent and 30 percent(!). Even factoring in repeats, the show is still running ahead of last season in adults 18-49.
“Arrow.” The CW is still searching for that breakout, game-changing hit, but it got a pretty nice building block this season with its first-year DC Comics adaptation. “Arrow” instantly became the network’s most-watched show, and it runs a strong second in the 18-34 and 18-49 demographics to “The Vampire Diaries.” The show also helped “Supernatural” improve its ratings, and The CW is using it as a lead-in to its new series “The Tomorrow People” in the fall.
“The Following.” One of FOX’s few bright spots this season, the Kevin Bacon-led thriller is neck-and-neck with NBC’s “Revolution” for the title of No. 1 new series among adults 18-49. It was a consistent draw in the overnight ratings, averaging about 8 million viewers and a 2.6 among adults 18-49. Live +7 viewing brought its totals to 11.9 million viewers and a 4.3 in the demo.
NBC’s first quarter. Without “The Voice” and “Revolution,” the network’s Monday and Tuesday lineups cratered. “The Biggest Loser” did an OK job filling in for “The Voice,” but “Deception” flatlined and Tuesday comedies “Go On” and “The New Normal” dropped off steeply, which helped lead to their cancellations in May. Add to that the insta-flop of “Do No Harm” and a no-go for Season 2 of “Smash” and you could hardly turn around without seeing another “NBC is doomed” story. The full season didn’t turn out that badly, but the winter of 2013 was a pretty terrible one for the Peacock.
“American Idol.” Both weekly editions of “Idol” still rank in the Top 10 in both viewers and adults 18-49, but the time when it could single-handedly push FOX to the top of the ratings heap looks to be gone. The show’s adults 18-49 rating is down more than a full point on both nights, and total viewership is off by about 4 million people.
The freshman classes at ABC, CBS and NBC. Between them, the three networks put 27 new series on the air this season. As of this post (pending the debut of ABC’s summer drama “Mistresses” and NBC’s decision on “Hannibal”), only five will be back next season. Ouch.
“Gossip Girl” and “90210.” The final seasons of the two CW shows, which were once linchpins of the network’s lineup, bowed out as third- and fourth-least-watched shows of the season on the five broadcast nets. Only The CW’s canceled “Cult” and game show “Oh Sit” had smaller audiences than the 1.15 million for “90210” and the 1.27 million for “Gossip Girl.”