Cable Dramas Hemorrhaging Viewers


Cable dramas like Damages and Big Love pulled respectable ratings last year but are averaging far smaller audiences this season. How come? According to USA Today, the entertainment industry’s favourite culprits, last year’s writers strike and TiVo, are to blame.

USA Today: Though overall TV viewership is up slightly, the shows face a tougher climate than last year, when a three-month writers’ strike left broadcasters with few scripted series.

“Once you move into that late September to May period, it’s just maths,” says Michael Wright, programming chief at TNT, TBS and Turner Classic Movies. “The broadcast network share goes up, and only so many people watch television. We have to fight and scrap every step of the way.”

And with more cable networks trying original series, there’s simply more competition during the traditional TV season.

“There are a lot more original cable series than there used to be, and some of them are airing opposite one another,” says Steve Sternberg, analyst at ad firm Magna Global USA. “A new show will no longer succeed simply because it’s an original cable drama.”

What’s this? Shows air opposite one another? That’s not fair!

Fortunately, a handy device called a DVR helps people overcome this maddening obstacle.

When delayed viewing — and several weekly repeats — are factored in, the total audience is less tiny than it seems. HBO claims 5 million weekly viewers for Love, and Damages‘ audience grew 38% with DVR use included, a bigger jump than for any other FX series.

And it’s not just returning shows. New series like TNT’s Trust Me and A&E’s Patrick Swayze starrer The Beast aren’t doing too hot, either. Burn Notice, The Closer and Monk meanwhile are still pulling in millions of viewers.