TV Ratings: Will Quarantines Boost Viewership, Offset Spring Declines?

Quarantine TV Ratings

Early indicators — plus common sense — point toward coronavirus-related quarantining giving broadcast-TV viewership a boost that could offset the downturn that is annually sustained once spring… springs.

As of March 12 (the latest data available for this measure), PUT levels (Persons Using TVs) were up only slightly week-to-week. Yet a comparison of the total broadcast audience for the past two weeks, in Nielsen Live+Same Day ratings, tells a slightly stronger story.

The ratings for Monday, March 9 and Tuesday, March 10 cannot reliably compared to one another, given the two-part Bachelor finale’s inflated numbers; similarly, Wednesday, March 11 was bogged down both by reruns of NBC’s mighty #OneChicago lineup and ABC’s Modern Family marathon.

The aggregate broadcast-TV audience for Thursday, March 12 (17.6 million viewers), however, was 7 percent larger than the week prior (which included a heavily promoted Grey’s Anatomy episode). Similarly, the Big 5 this past Friday drew a 3 percent larger crowd (18.4 million total viewers) than the week prior.

Most recently, broadcast-TV this Sunday night amassed 18.3 million total viewers, up 4 percent week-to-week and with 10 out of 13 shows seeing gains in viewers.

UPDATE: CBS’ The Neighborhood on March 16 delivered its largest audience (7.4 million viewers) in well over a year.

UPDATE: ABC’s The Conners on March 17 surged 29 percent in total audience to mark a season high (6.6 million).

UPDATE: Fox’s The Masked Singer on March 18 drew its best Wednesday numbers of Season 3, while ABC’s The Goldbergs and Schooled hit season highs.

UPDATE: ABC’s Station 19 and Grey’s Anatomy, plus NBC’s Superstore and Will & Grace, on March 19 hit or tied season highs.

UPDATE: ABC’s Shark Tank and NBC’s The Blacklist on March 20 hit season highs.

The increases as of right now may seem slight, until you factor in that with spring officially arriving on March 19, TV viewership famously and reliably wanes, as we humans ostensibly fitter away primetime by playing Frisbee and Jarts outdoors with kinfolk and loved ones. But as self-quarantining becomes more widespread (and respected), the increased watching of TV could keep the broadcast networks at least steady, if not up some.

After all, a newly released Nielsen report says that “staying put in our homes can lead to almost a 60 percent increase in the amount of content we watch in some cases.” Specifically, Nielsen noted that during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 there was a 56 percent increase in TUT (Total Usage of TVs, for live viewing, DVR playback, DVDs, gaming, etc;), while during a January 2016 blizzard that dropped more than two feet of snow in the New York area, TUT rose 45 percent.

Of course, with 100+ shows having halted production for the time being, the question may turn out to be: Will the broadcast networks have enough for us to watch, as spring unfolds?

In Q3 2019, the average adult age 18-49 spent nearly 3.5 hours watching Live TV, and another 30 minutes catching up on Time-Shifted TV. How have your own habits changed since the coronavirus outbreak began affecting your daily routines?