Veteran Unscripted Shows Keeping the Lights on for TV Nets

Familiarity Doesn't Necessarily Breed Contempt

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Midway through the summer TV season, familiarity is clearly trumping novelty, as hoary old formats like NBC's "America's Got Talent" and CBS' "Big Brother" are crushing nearly all of broadcast's new unscripted fare.

'America's Got Talent'
'America's Got Talent' Credit: NBC

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the 10-year-old "America's Got Talent" is the summer's top-performing show in the all-important adults 18-49 demo, averaging a 2.4 rating. In a season of plummeting viewership stats, "America's Got Talent" has managed to eke out a slight increase where it counts most, improving 4% versus its year-ago 2.3 rating.

"AGT" is also the most-watched summer program, boasting an average delivery of 10.7 million total viewers.

While it's not a perfect comparison -- in-season Tuesday nights are a lot more competitive than those that fall in the more tropical months -- "AGT" effectively stands as NBC's No. 3 series behind "Sunday Night Football" and "The Voice."

Tied for second with a 2.0 in the 18-49 demo are CBS' indefatigable "Big Brother" and ABC's revival of "Celebrity Family Feud." Now in its 17th season, "Big Brother" is down 12% versus a year ago. For its part, "CFF" is the only new summer series (on broadcast or cable) to hit the 2.0 mark; in fact, but for NBC's "I Can Do That!" (1.5), the vast majority of the newbies are struggling to eke out so much as a 1.0.

Other shows at the high end of the ratings spectrum include ABC's "The Bachelorette" (up 9% to a 1.9), NBC's "American Ninja Warrior" (up 8% to a 1.9), Fox's recently renewed "MasterChef" (down 23% to a 1.5) and NBC's "Last Comic Standing," which was up 22% to a 1.5 in Wednesday night's season opener.

While the long-running summer shows are keeping the lights on, the newcomers largely have gone ignored… but for the aforementioned "CFF." All told, the 12 new unscripted broadcast series are currently averaging just a 1.1 in the demo. Of the Big Four nets, Fox is having the roughest go of it, as its five new unscripted series are averaging a 0.8.

As Ad Age reported earlier, scripted is faring little better. In fact, the highest rated summer scripted series on television is HBO's non-ad supported "True Detective," which is managing a 1.2 on Sunday nights. Top scripted broadcast honors are shared by Fox's "Wayward Pines" and CBS' "Zoo" and "Under the Dome," all of which are averaging a 1.1 in the 18-49 demo.

Across the ad-supported cable landscape, not a single scripted series is currently averaging anywhere near a 1.0. Even the most high-profile/most critically acclaimed launches are suffering under the blazing sun; USA Network's "Mr. Robot" is averaging a 0.5 in the demo, while AMC's "Humans" (0.4) and TNT's "Proof" (0.3) are even further down the chain.

While there is some hope that C3 ratings adjustments will have a somewhat ameliorative effect on the ratings picture, it's become apparent that rapidly evolving viewer behaviors and imprecise measurement have resulted in an ongoing evaporation of GRPs. In June, TV usage on ad-supported cable fell 9% among the 18-to-49 set, and while some of that can be chalked up to tough comps versus the lift ESPN enjoyed courtesy of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the stats for the younger crowd are particularly discouraging. Per Nielsen, TV usage among viewers 18-24 dropped 16% versus June 2014.

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