Every major TV network has lost audience reach since 2014–except this one

Every major TV network has lost audience reach since 2014–except this one
[Photo: Siniz Kim/Unsplash]

It’s not exactly front-page news anymore that linear TV is a business of diminishing returns, but every once in a while a report comes along that crystalizes the extent of the damage.

Last week, analyst firm MoffettNathanson released a research note that examined the current audience reach of major TV networks and contrasted it against the same data from four years ago. As anyone who follows cord-cutting trends could probably guess, the numbers aren’t good. Among the top 25 networks, almost all of them have seen declines in reach in the last four years, and in most cases the drop was 20% or more.

Specialty cable networks like A&E, TLC, and Animal Planet are suffering the most, with declines of 36%, 38%, and 40%, respectively. Among broadcast networks, NBC fared best, with a decline of 6%, while ABC, CBS, and Fox saw declines of 12%, 13%, and 28%, respectively.

MoffettNathanson compared Nielsen’s total viewership data for Q1 2018 with Q1 2014. The sole outlier on its list of 25 networks was the NBC Sports Network, which saw a gain in reach of 12%.

In fact, live sports programming is a driving factor here: As MoffettNathanson points out, NBC aired both the Super Bowl and the Olympics in 2018, which boosted the network’s numbers for the first quarter of this year. Conversely, Fox’s more dramatic drop was likely due to the fact that it aired the Super Bowl in 2014 and got a boost that year.

Here’s how the full list of 25 networks shakes out—ranked from best to worst:

  • NBC Sports Network +12%
  • NBC -6%
  • HGTV -8%
  • ABC -12%
  • ESPN -13%
  • CBS -13%
  • TNT -16%
  • Food Network -20%
  • E! -21%
  • TBS -23%
  • Syfy -24%
  • Paramount -26%
  • FX -27%
  • Freeform -28%
  • History -28%
  • AMC -28%
  • Fox -28%
  • USA -31%
  • Discovery -32%
  • The Disney Channel -33%
  • Lifetime -34%
  • Nickelodeon -34%
  • Animal Planet -36%
  • TLC -38%
  • A&E -40%