The English-language broadcast networks lose a sizable chunk of advertiser-desired millennial viewers each summer, but a saving grace has been that some of the veteran series that join their schedules between mid-May and mid-September each year continue to draw a core of 18-34-year-olds.
Last summer the five networks cumulatively averaged 3.1 million live-plus same day, 18-34 viewers per night, down about 16% from the 3.7 million they averaged during the summer of 2013, according to Nielsen data. Each network was down, but Fox took the biggest hit among millennials, losing about 300,000.
The top 10 summer series in the demo from last year included NBC’s America’s Got Talent on Tuesday night, which averaged a 1.7 demo rating and 1.2 million viewers, and CBS’ Big Brother on Wednesday night (a 1.5 demo rating and 1 million viewers.) They were the only two shows to average more than 1 million millennial viewers last summer. That compares to seven during summer 2013, including the Wednesday edition of AGT.
Rounding out the top 10 list from last summer: AGT Wednesday (1.5 demo rating and 997,000 viewers); Big Brother Sunday (1.5, 982,000); Big Brother Thursday (1.4, 959,000); The Bachelorette, ABC (1.4, 955,000); MasterChef, Fox (1.4, 955,000); American Ninja Warrior, NBC (1.4, 853,000); Hell’s Kitchen, Fox (1.2, 803,000); tie, Bachelor in Paradise, ABC and 24: Live Another Day, Fox, both with a 1.1 demo rating and 713,000 viewers.
Marketers are not buying summer shows specifically to target millennials, but the top 10 summer shows last year did draw more millennials than most regular season broadcast network series.
Only 15 broadcast network non-sports shows this regular season drew more 18-34 viewers than the two AGTs, the three Big Brothers, The Bachelorette,MasterChef and American Ninja Warrior drew last summer. AGT last summer drew more 18-34 viewers than American Idol did this season.
This regular season there were lots of media reports about how freshman dramas Gotham on Fox, Scorpion on CBS and The Flash on The CW were drawing a sizable millennial audience back to broadcast, but Gotham averaged the same 1.4 in the 18-34 demo as The Bachelorette did during the summer. And Scorpion averaged a 1.1 18-34 rating, same as Bachelor in Paradise, Hotel Hell and So You Think You Can Dance did last summer.
The Flash averaged a 0.9 in the 18-34 demo, same as NBC’s summer shows Last Comic Standing, Running Wild with Bear Grylls and The Night Shift, and less than the 1.0 garnered by CBS’ Under the Dome and Fox’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.
Summer is not a huge destination for millennials but neither is the regular season. However, with each network putting on a bunch of just for summer shows, they stay competitive with cable in the battle to reach those younger audiences.
Other than broadcast hits like Empire, The Big Bang Theory, Scandal, The Voice, Grey’s Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder, Modern Family, The Blacklist and a few others, most of the broadcast network shows skew low among millennials both during the regular season and the summer. The most-watched drama on television — CBS drama NCIS — averaged a 1.1 in the 18-34 demo this season. Other CBS dramas like Elementary, Person of Interest, Hawaii Five-0 and CSI: Cyber averaged between 0.7 and 0.8 in the demo. ABC freshman sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, renewed for a second season, averaged a 1.0 in the demo.
The top broadcast summer series may be bleeding viewers but three showed especially large losses last summer. Under the Dome was down 456,000 in its second summer season, following its breakout freshman summer. Hell’s Kitchen was down 400,000 viewers and MasterChef lost 345,000 viewers.
AGT lost 100,000 18-34 viewers on Tuesday and 200,000 on Wednesday. So You Think You Can Dance was down 157,000. Big Brother was flat on Wednesday, down 140,000 on Thursday and down 20,000 on Sunday. ABC drama Rookie Blue was down 65,000, Mistresses was down 115,000 and reality series Extreme Weight Loss was down 45,000. The Bachelorette was down 45,000. American Ninja Warrior was down 42,000. NBC’s Hollywood Game Night was down 40,000.
Despite their millennial viewer loses last summer, most of those series still produced a good chunk of 18-34 year olds. SYTYCD averaged 709,000 viewers in the demo. Under the Dome average 644,000. Mistresses pulled in 472,000, Extreme Weight Loss averaged 469,000 and Hollywood Game Night, 468,000. Rookie Blue drew 423,000 millennials per episode.
One summer series that was virtually flat last summer over the previous one was the ABC reality series What Would You Do? That show averaged a 0.8 in the demo and 553,000 viewers.
Improv series Whose Line Is It Anyway returns to The CW later this summer after averaging 329,000 18-34 viewers last year, along with Penn & Teller: Fool Us, which averaged a 0.4 and 264,000 millennials.
Just a couple of weeks into the new summer season, it’s too early to tell how the millennial viewership picture will develop. But AGT and American Ninja Warrior are already off to solid starts, with Big Brother set to premiere later in June.
Marketers and their agencies right now might be focused on upfront negotiations for the 2015-16 regular TV season. However those marketers interested in the millennial audience should also be keeping an eye on those 18-34 summer broadcast ratings.