As more people cut the cord, cable companies are reporting embarrassingly low audience numbers.
In cable’s heyday of yesteryear, individual networks could regularly boast high viewership numbers in the millions. Now, many of the top ten networks are struggling to reach a few million combined, and a good chunk of those numbers can be attributed to big sporting events like NBA playoffs driving up viewership.
As several leagues renegotiate network contracts and are heading towards streaming services, cable audience numbers could decline even more.
So far in May, the top ten networks are showing dwindling primetime viewership reports with only the top four networks reaching audiences in the millions, which is staggeringly low in a country with a population of well over 334 million citizens. TNT totaled 3.2 million viewers, followed by ESPN with 2.4 million, Fox News with 1.4 million, and MSNBC with 1.1 million.
The remaining six networks didn’t even break 1 million viewers. HGTV reported 773,000 viewers, INSP had 727,000, TBS averaged 722,000, History had 690,000, TLC’s total was 617,000, and USA Network barely got over half a million viewers at 583,000.
To put this in perspective, just over 30 years ago, Nielsen Media Research reported that Cheers on NBC was a must-see for 21.3 million viewers. CBS averaged 20.6 million people tuning in to 60 Minutes, while Roseanne on ABC was touting 18.1 million in viewership. And these are just the numbers for individual shows airing during primetime television back in the 1990s. Now, these networks aren’t pulling in enough audiences to make it to primetime’s top ten.
Last year, after Sunday Night Football on NBC and Thursday Night Football on Fox, NCIS was the top-ranked series with 10.9 million viewers. The trend of sports driving up audience numbers for networks only increased this year as more people prefer to use DVRs or on-demand to get their television fix. Even more people are switching to streaming platforms altogether, getting access to more extensive video libraries at a cheaper price than cable.