TV ratings had their biggest primetime drop of the year during July using C3 ratings, the measure used for buying and selling commercials.
According to an analysis of Nielsen data by Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson Research, both broadcast and cable lost 7% in prime among adults 18 to 49. For total day, ratings were down 9% for broadcast and down 4% for cable, which adds up to a 5% drop.
Nathanson noted that the July decline followed three months of relatively flat ratings in primetime and that August’s figures will be impacted by the Olympics. Ratings for the Olympics are down on linear TV while digital viewing has increased for NBC.
"Looking at just primetime cable trends, after two years of steady declines, ratings have recovered with low-single digit to flat Y/Y growth,” Nathanson said in a note. “However, July proved to be the single worst month of 2016, despite relatively easy compares. We will continue to monitor the weekly ratings to see whether or not July’s performance was anomalistic in nature or the beginning of a broader trend.”
For July, NBC’s ratings were up 9% on the strength of Olympic trials and America’s Got Talent. Fox’s ratings were way down because it aired the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament last year.
On cable, Time Warner was up in prime thanks to CNN’s political coverage. Scripps Networks also posted a gain for the month. Viacom posted only a small decline while Discovery and Disney registered double-digit drops.
In total day, cable did better, with Fox up 3% and Viacom and Scripps posting 1% gains. Time Warner was flat. A&E, Disney, AMC Networks, Discovery and Disney were down double digits.
The bottom line: “Year-to-date advertising has been one of the few positive surprises for media companies and has positively impacted the more ad centric names in our coverage universe, namely CBS and Scripps Networks,” Nathanson said. “If ratings start to turn and the scatter market starts to cool (as we expect), the ad beats witnessed in the first half of the year might be harder to come by.”