Viacom networks seeing more audience declines


ViacomThe pain at Viacom’s Nickelodeon network is showing signs of subsiding, but ratings trouble is still occurring at its other key networks. Comedy Central’s prime-time audience fell 19% in the four weeks through 10/21, while MTV’s viewership declined 32% in the same period, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis using Nielsen numbers.

And it may get worse: MTV hasn’t found a big hit to replace “Jersey Shore,” currently in its sixth and final season.

Signs of slight ratings erosion were evident at both channels earlier this year, but the recent numbers show a much greater decline, said the story. So far this year, Comedy Central’s average daily viewership is down 10% while MTV’s is off 18%. Nickelodeon’s audience, meanwhile, is down 23% for the year to date although the drop-off in September was narrower than in previous months.

Many big cable and broadcast networks have seen sharp ratings declines in recent weeks, amid a broader drop in overall television viewing. Time Warner’s TBS and Comcast’s USA are both down 13% in the four weeks through 10/21, for instance.

Some in the TV industry say television viewing is fragmenting among different outlets, such as on-demand and the Internet. Such viewership isn’t measured as part of traditional TV ratings, which makes it harder to sell ads on these outlets.

Viacom, which also owns VH1, CMT and Spike, has been particularly hard hit by the audience drop-off. Fourteen of the 16 channels in the MTV and Nickelodeon families had viewership declines in September, according to Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Todd Jeunger, citing Nielsen data.

MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon are of most concern to investors. The three account for roughly 50% of Viacom’s operating profit, David Bank of RBC Capital Markets, told WSJ.

In Viacom’s fiscal second quarter ended June 30, ratings weakness at its channels contributed to a 9% decline in ad revenue. Juenger estimates the ratings drop at MTV could hurt that channel’s ad revenue by at least 5% in the year through September 2013, while Comedy Central’s ad revenue is likely to be flat.

MTV’s ratings falloff has come even before it loses “Jersey Shore.” The reality show is in its last season and the network hasn’t developed any monster hits to replace it. The show, which turned the likes of Snooki and Pauly D into overnight celebrities in its 2009 debut, has cooled during its sixth and final season, drawing an average of 3.6 million viewers for the episodes that have already aired. That compares with a peak average of about seven million in its fourth season.

The network has created spinoffs of “Jersey Shore” featuring the show’s stars, including “Snooki & Jwoww” and “The Pauly D Project.” Ratings, while respectable for a cable show, haven’t come close to the original. “Snooki & Jwoww” for instance, has averaged 1.8 million viewers for debut runs of each episode. Most episodes are rerun several times.

MTV is taking steps to revive its ratings. Viacom says MTV will have 13 new series out of a total lineup of 25 shows in the fiscal year ending next September.

See the WSJ story here

RBR-TVBR observation: However, online viewing of programming is measured by Nielsen as well and those ratings are sold against. It’s not quite as established in the eyes of buyers and planners yet, but it will achieve parity eventually with TV ratings. If the lost eyeballs are shown to be moving to the same content, just online, then the media agencies will spend there and these cable networks will be able to make up a good bit of the difference in ad buys via online video. However, if these eyeballs are just moving over to YouTube, Twitter and other distractions, there is a substantial problem here for these networks and finding great programming may not be the guaranteed solution to bring up ratings.