Netflix’s share price ticked up 2% on Thursday as ratings for one of the most important days of the new television season came out. Wednesday is the second-most lucrative day for the television ad market after Thursday — and this week, most of the key Wednesday shows had their season debuts. The results were mostly dismal.
ABC’s anchor sitcom, The Middle, was down 17% from its season opener last year. The new ABC comedy Back in the Game is dead on arrival, posting the lowest debut number of any ABC sitcom since 2009. The critically praised country drama Nashville collapsed by 25%, CSI was down 16%. Revolution hit a series low, diving more than 50% from its debut last year. Alarmingly, Survivor dropped by more than 10% from last week’s episode, hitting another series low. Weirdly, the ancient Law and Order: SVU was the one show that surprised on the upside, climbing 28% from last year’s opening.
These shocking declines of between 15% to 50% in ratings come after the terrible weakness the broadcast networks showed in the autumn of 2012. Some industry observers thought that ratings declines were so steep last year that some stabilization was due in 2013. At the moment, this seems like a forlorn wish. Perhaps the most ominous emerging trend is that both new and old shows are showing substantial drop-offs in their second weeks, from Survivor to Sleepy Hollow.
All eyes are now on the main event: The crucially important Thursday evening ratings of tonight. In a few hours, the opening episodes of Parks and Recreation, Glee, The Michael J. Fox Show, The Big Bang Theory and Grey’s Anatomy will basically determine if raw panic is going to engulf the broadcast television business. After the weak Wednesday, the industry needs some good news.
The problem with Thursday is that many of these key shows are starting to look old and haggard: Glee, The Big Bang Theory and Grey’s Anatomy in particular have not aged well. The decision to put the Michael J. Fox Show into such a pivotal night seems like a weird gambit since he holds little appeal to anyone younger than 40 years.
Tomorrow morning we’ll see just how giddy the executives of Netflix and Hulu are going to be during the Friday happy hour.