Dwindling TV Viewers

It’s common knowledge that cable operators are losing customers to cord-cutting. The cable industry peaked in 2014 when there were 102 million homes that had a landline cable subscription or satellite cable service. By the end of 2019, the number of homes with traditional cable is approaching 86 million, a 16% decline in customers since 2014.

What’s not as well understood is that even people who are buying a traditional cable service are watching it less as they spend some time watching Netflix and other online programming alternatives. This has resulted in significant losses of viewers for most traditional cable networks. The statistics below are from Variety and show the average daily viewers of the top 20 cable networks in 2019 and five years earlier in 2014. The numbers represent the average daily viewers of each network, in millions.

2019 2014 Change
1 CBS 7.14 9.38 -24%
2 NBC 6.33 8.26 -23%
3 ABC 5.19 6.39 -19%
4 Fox 4.62 5.97 -23%
5 Fox News 2.50 1.75 43%
6 ESPN 1.75 2.21 -21%
7 MSNBC 1.74 0.59 195%
8 ION 1.34 0.28 379%
9 HGTV 1.31 1.36 -4%
10 Univision 1.30 2.97 -56%
11 Hallmark Channel 1.27 0.83 53%
12 USA Network 1.23 2.20 -44%
13 Telemundo 1.20 1.33 -10%
14 History 1.19 1.88 -37%
15 TLC 1.18 1.10 7%
16 TBS 1.16 1.89 -39%
17 Discovery Channel 1.13 1.41 -20%
18 TNT 1.12 2.06 -46%
19 The CW 1.09 1.66 -34%
20 A&E 1.06 1.29 -18%

The loss in viewers for some networks is eye-opening. Most networks have lost daily viewers at a faster pace than the overall industry loss of cable customers. CBS, the most-watched network, lost 2.24 million daily viewers over the last five years. Five networks fell out of the top twenty since 2014 – the Disney Channel, AMC, Adult Swim, FX, and the Food Network.

Daily viewers matter because that’s the prime driver of advertising dollars. Variety reports that the trends deeper inside these numbers reveal that networks that are watched by younger views have the biggest losses, reflecting that the average age of traditional TV viewers has climbed significantly over the last few years. In 2014 the average age of viewers of the major broadcast networks was 54 years old. By 2019 that climbed to 61 years old. Younger people are not watching traditional TV content. It’s no wonder that advertisers are moving to other platforms. In 2019, Facebook had 68 million daily users in the US and Twitter had 27 million.

The loss of viewers directly impacts the revenues of each network since each charges a subscription fee to show their content on a cable network. As viewers have plunged, many of the networks have tried to make up the lost revenues through subscription price increases.

Not every network is losing viewers. The big winners over the last five years are ION and MSNBC that have shot up the chart. A few other networks like Fox News, the Hallmark Channel, and TLC also gained viewers over the last five years. However, the vast majority of cable channels are steadily losing viewers year after year. With cord-cutting still growing and an explosion of new online programming, the loss of viewers is likely to continue and deepen.