Summer was historically a safe haven for cable TV networks: As broadcasters went on break, airing repeats or cheaper-to-produce reality series, cable networks took the opportunity to bow originals that might have otherwise gotten lost in the traditional September-to-May TV season.
Now broadcasters are looking to program 52 weeks a year, and still have all the marketing clout and regular audiences that help them usually win during the winter. But that's not to say chasing viewers is any easier under the sun. Even with all the new programming broadcasters have added, ratings between June 1 and July 20 have declined on broadcast this year, with household ratings down 5% from the period a year earlier and 18-to-49 ratings declining nearly 14%. It's not as easy to gauge the sprawling cable line-up, but here's a look at how some of the most-hyped summer shows, on broadcast and cable, are faring so far.
Starring Halle Berry, "Extant" was quite possibly one of the most-hyped new series heading into the summer. And while it's certainly one of the highest-rated shows of the season, its audience skews older and it hasn't lived up to the success network sibling "Under the Dome" had in its first season (more on the sophomore season of "Dome" below). The sci-fi series premiered to about 9.6 million viewers and 1.6 rating among 18-to-49 demo, but both have fallen each week. (A single ratings point represents 1% of the total number of TV households.) The third episode averaged 6.4 million and 1.1 rating in the demo. But CBS is bullish when it comes to delayed viewing: According to the network in the three days following episodes airing, "Extant" experiences a more than 2 million lift in viewership.
"24: Live Another Day" (Fox)
gent Jack Bauer returned to Fox this summer in a 12-episode limited event series. The heavily promoted "24: Live Another Day" debuted in May to 8.1 million viewers and 2.6 rating among adults 18-to-49, retaining more than 90% of the demo who watched the show's series finale in May 2010. And the finale was solid, with 6.5 million people tuning in and a 1.7 rating in the demo, a 21% uptick from the episode prior.
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"Under the Dome" (CBS)
The biggest summer show of 2013 and a big encouragement to network programmers eyeing midyear gaps in their calendar, "Under the Dome" returned to CBS down more than 20% from its season one finale. And its audience is declining every week, with its fourth episode averaging just 6.7 million viewers, the smallest audience thus far for the series. But CBS noted that "Under the Dome" is one of the most time-shifted programs, with the season premiere adding 4.6 million viewers in the seven days after it aired, bringing the total to a hefty figure above 14 million. The network is also bringing in extra revenue from "Under the Dome": In a new strategy for CBS last year, it struck a deal with Amazon to stream episodes just four days after they air. CBS and Amazon renewed their "Dome" partnership for season two.
"The Night Shift" (NBC)
The peacock renewed "The Night Shift" for a second season shortly after it debuted in May to 7.8 million viewers and a 1.6 rating among adults 18-to-49. But the medical drama shed viewers as the season progressed, with the finale pulling in 6 million total viewers and a 1.1 rating in the demo. NBC is nonetheless slated to make 14 episodes next season, up from 8 this summer.
"The Last Ship" (TNT)
TNT had a lot riding on the post-apocalyptic series about a naval ship trying to survive a global pandemic, having recently lost its cachet to some other cable channels that have seen success with ground-breaking originals. Thus far "The Last Ship" seems to be helping, with TNT ranking as the No. 1 most-watched cable network for five straight weeks. "The Last Ship" debuted to 5.3 million viewers, making it the most-watched new series debut on cable this year. It's currently averaging 3.3 million viewers live, and its total audience surges to 7.2 million when accounting for delayed viewership in the week after it airs. (Some advertisers are now willing to pay for ads seen in a window as long as seven days.) TNT has already renewed the series for a second season, increasing its episode order to 13 from 10 this year.
"Rising Star" (ABC)
With "Rising Star," ABC attempted to evolve the reality singing competition genre by letting viewers vote for contestants in real-time via an app, a strategy that had the potential to entice live viewing and discourage time-shifting. But the gimmick wasn't enough to entice large audiences, and "Rising Star" bowed to just roughly 5 million viewers on June 22. Since then, its viewership has declined. Its July 20 episode was watched by 4.1 million viewers, down from the 4.5 million who watched the week prior, and the all-important 18-to-49 demo shrunk 23% week-to-week.
"The Strain" (FX)
"The Strain," a vampire drama from Guillermo del Toro, debuted to 3 million viewers when it bowed earlier in the month. But what makes FX's new drama interesting is the network's decision to hold back releasing live plus same day ratings figures. Instead, with "The Strain," FX is looking to shift the ratings model. The network said in the three days after the episode aired viewership increased to 4.7 million.
"Halt and Catch Fire" (AMC)
After AMC's aggressive marketing strategy for its newest drama, which included debuting the first episode on Tumblr, the AMC series bowed to just 1.2 million viewers in June. That's below shows like "Low Winter Sun," which AMC canceled. The network noted that "Halt and Catch Fire," a computer drama set in the 1980s, is a heavily time-shifted show. When accounting for viewership in three days after it airs, "Halt and Catch Fire" is averaging about 1.4 million for first seven episodes. AMC can also always hope that viewers discover its shows later on if it nurses them long enough, as happened with "Breaking Bad."
"Backpackers" and "Seed" (The CW)
The CW took its first big swing in half-hour comedy in years this summer with "Backpackers" and "Seed," but both have been pulled after just two episodes. "Backpackers" was originally a digital series birthed out of the network's digital hub CW Seed. Both shows had averaged under 500,000 total viewers and a 0.2 rating among adults 18-to-49.