Broadcast TV's prime-time ghost town is growing ever more desolate, as live viewing in the 10 p.m. time slot continues to shrivel like a neglected jack-o'-lantern two weeks after Halloween.
Season-to-date (Sept. 21-Nov. 6), live-plus-same-day ratings for the final hour of prime time are at an all-time low, as the 15 broadcast scripted series that air at 10 p.m. are now averaging a 1.4 in the adults 18-49 demo. That translates to just 1.76 million targeted viewers, down 18% from 2.16 million adults 18-49, or a 1.7 rating, in the year-ago period.
By comparison, seasonal prime-time ratings for the three broadcasters (ABC, CBS, NBC) that program 10 p.m. are down only 7% to a 2.5.
Only one 10 p.m. scripted series has improved upon its time slot's year-ago performance. ABC's "Quantico" is now averaging a 1.6 in the dollar demo, which marks a 33% gain when compared to the 1.2 rating posted by fall 2014 occupant "Revenge." "Quantico's" deliveries may have been even higher, were it not saddled with the dud lead-in that is "Blood & Oil." Through seven episodes, the effectively canceled 9 p.m. sudser is averaging a 1.0 in the demo.
While two other new series are faring rather well at 10 p.m. -- with an average draw of a 2.4, NBC's "Blindspot" is down just 11% versus former Monday night tenant "The Blacklist," while CBS's "Limitless" is off just a tenth of a point from the 1.7 notched by "Person of Interest" -- two of the biggest losers in late prime are newbies. ABC continues to struggle with its Tuesday 10 p.m. slot, as "Wicked City" is DOA with a 0.8 in the demo, down 39% from the 1.3 average delivered by "Forever," while NBC's similarly doomed "The Player" (0.9) is down 31% when compared to "Parenthood."
("Blindspot" this afternoon was renewed for a second season, making it the first new show to earn a berth on the 2016-17 schedule. "Limitless" and "Quantico" have been given full-season orders, and barring any unforeseen ratings collapses, both are all but certain to return next fall. Not coincidentally, all three newbies enjoy some of the biggest gains in commercial deliveries upon conversion from live-same-day to C3/C7.)
Among the returning 10 p.m. shows that have suffered vertiginous declines are CBS's "CSI: Cyber," which is down 43% versus the year-ago Sunday occupant "CSI"; ABC's "Castle," down 33% when compared to its own performance last fall, and "How to Get Away with Murder," down 32% from its big freshman run.
As Ad Age noted last week, while "Murder" wins back a good deal of commercial viewing upon application of currency C3 and C7 data, its under-deliveries are particularly troubling in light of the fact that ABC in the 2015-16 upfront jacked up the show's ad rates by nearly 75%.
Per Ad Age's annual pricing survey, the estimated cost of a 30-second spot in "Murder" ($252,934) is almost twice what buyers paid for inventory in the second most-expensive scripted 10 p.m. show, CBS's "Code Black" ($129,626).
On the whole, 10 p.m. pricing has been adjusted downward slightly over the last few seasons, in tacit acknowledgement of the time slot's ongoing ratings losses. Remove the outlier that is "Murder" from the equation and the average rate for a scripted :30 at 10 p.m. is around $114,000 a pop, or about 10% less than last fall's $126,600.
Advertisers will get a few more bites at the 10 p.m. apple in January, when ABC rolls out sophomore drama "American Crime" in the Wednesday slot now occupied by "Nashville," and NBC replaces "The Player" with the Jennifer Lopez-Ray Liotta cop show "Shades of Blue." Also in the wings is Shonda Rhimes' "The Catch." Starring Mireille Enos and Peter Krause, the psychological thriller is slated to spell "Murder" in mid-season.