Nickelodeon’s Ratings Drop – What’s Going On?

Author: Nickandmore!

What’s the whole Nickelodeon ratings decline thing about?

There have been several articles over the past few weeks about Nickelodeon’s recent ratings decline. Basically, Viacom/Nickelodeon is asking Nielsen (the ratings company) to investigate because they are seeing a difference between the data Nielsen has and their own set top data. Nielsen said “the review process confirms that our measurement methodology, operations and related reporting processes are working as expected.”

Nickelodeon is specifically talking about a decline in ratings that drastically began in September and has continued since.

Nickelodeon’s loss has been Disney Channel’s gain, as it would seem. Disney Channel has increased in kids 6-11 ratings for the past 13 consecutive months. Nickelodeon, however, has posted decreases in the same demo over the past four months:

  • August 2011 vs. August 2010 was down 8%
  • September 2011 vs. September 2010 is not available, but Nickelodeon did decrease
  • The third quart (July-September 2011 vs. July-September 2010) was down 5%
  • October 2011 vs. October 2010 was down 17%
  • November 2011 vs. November 2010 was down 21%

Disney Channel disagrees about the Nielsen issue though – telling The Wrap: “We don’t think there’s a glitch in kids ratings … The ratings strength of Disney Channel and Disney XD is ‘inexplicable’ to some but we are very clear on what’s happening — it’s the popularity of our programming.”

Who’s winning the different kids demographics and total viewers?

Nickelodeon has regularly lost to Disney Channel with older viewers (tweens 9-14) for several years. Disney has won that demo three years in a row now. Kids 6-11 has been moving more in Disney’s direction over the past year or so. Lately, even Cartoon Network has been ahead of Nickelodeon in total day with tweens 9-14 at points.

The only demo Nick seems to barely be able to hold on too is kids 2-5 – the preschool demographic. Total viewers (ages 2+) have always leaned in Nick’s direction too, and that’s safe – for now. Disney Channel has only won that twice ever (the weeks of 8/13/07, the week High School Musical 2 premiered, and 11/14/11). But for the first time ever – Disney Channel will likely win the year with kids 6-11 – taking that crown from Nickelodeon too.

Disney’s shows have also constantly littered the top kids’ demos each week. Nick will usually pop up with some SpongeBob repeats on the kids 2-11 charts (mainly due to kids 2-5, as they usually don’t make the kids 6-11 charts as much).

How do I know if my favorite show is doing well? What areas of Nick’s schedule are part of the problem?

The most telling factor to watch is Nickelodeon’s TV schedule. Whenever you want to know how a show or ratings overall are doing for any given network, just follow their schedule over a course of time. Thankfully, I’ve been doing that since 2003 with Nickelodeon!

Some interesting schedule trends from the past few months include:

  • The constant moving of preschool programming. Since Disney Channel re-launched their preschool block to Disney Junior this February, Nick has struggled to stay ahead. For years, Nick’s preschool series usually stayed in the 9am-2pm (or 8:30am-2pm) timeslots for the majority of the year (minus summer and holidays). However, this year, Nick has been nixing and adding to it all the time. Sometimes it would run from 9am-1pm or 9am-12pm, with SpongeBob chunks following it. But in late October, they decided to shift the whole block to 7am-12pm. Now starting next week, about a month after that change, they are reversing everything to the way it once was: 9am-2pm. The numerous preschool schedule changes certainly indicate Nick’s inability to maintain those kid/mom numbers the way they once did.
  • One of Nick’s biggest shows has also taken a drastic decrease over the past month – iCarly. The show used to air 3-4 or more times per weekday. Since the beginning of November, it has been reduced to one or two days a week with 4-6 episode chunks, plus weekend airings at varying times. That indicates that one of Nick’s strongest shows has now taken such a decrease in repeat ratings that it can no longer warrant regular weekday showings.
  • Big Time Rush – Nick’s boy band with a TV show – has also taken a nose dive in ratings this year. Since the summer, the show has struggled to even get to 3 million total viewers for new episodes. Repeats have also been greatly decreased over the past few months – once airing everyday, the show is now reduced to a handful of times per week (depending on the week, of course).
  • Neither of Nick’s new live-action shows, Supah Ninjas and Bucket & Skinner’s Epic Adventures, have been able to maintain good ratings. Supah Ninjas peaked at 3.1 million viewers for its official premiere in April, but has stayed well below that since. October premieres were under 2 million an episode. Bucket & Skinner premiered over three days in July to 1.5-1.8 million viewers an episode. The show peaked at 2.7 million viewers on July 15 after a SpongeBob special, but was given two more big chances (after a VICTORiOUS special and iCarly special) but neither scored much more. The last new episode that aired on October 7 scored 1.7 million viewers and the show has since to air on the main network. Even a spooky-themed episode for Halloween was pulled without notice a few days before airing.
  • Nickelodeon has also been very inconsistent with the 8pm hour on weeknights (specifically Mondays through Thursdays). Nick gave the hour to Nick@Nite programming in July 2009, but has occasionally still used it for special events (like Monday night premieres on holidays, etc.). However, in October, Nick took the hour to air SpongeBob repeats and later Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness repeats as well. Then, starting this week, they’ve reversed it back to regular Nick@Nite programming with My Wife and Kids in the hour.

Overall, Nickelodeon is well known for having the most inconsistent TV schedule for any kid network. They usually change things multiple times during the week, and week-to-week consistently is rare outside of Nick@Nite. But that isn’t really anything new. As long as I’ve been collecting Nick’s schedule (since 2003), it’s regularly been that way. Maybe now’s the time for some consistency?

Why do Disney Channel’s ratings even matter if they aren’t advertiser supported?

Disney Channel is not advertiser supported like all the other kid networks, aside from a few “brought to you by” spots for special events, but networks (even advertiser-less ones) still want to get the most money they can from carriage fees. That’s how much money each cable or satellite company has to pay to carry a network. Top rated networks have an easier advantage to getting higher carriage fees, like ESPN (which I think is the most expensive cable network on average). Therefore, even though the higher ratings don’t equal advertising dollars for Disney Channel, they do likely equal higher carriage fees rates. Plus, if they can hurt Nickelodeon’s ratings, that’ll hurt Nick’s advertising profit – which is usually huge (about a billion dollars each year).

What can Nickelodeon do to improve their ratings, if it isn’t an issue on Nielsen’s part?

That’s a good question and one I’m sure Nickelodeon is racing to figure out. If the problem doesn’t lie on Nielsen’s side, which Nielsen says it doesn’t, then what’s Nick to do to try and win back the viewers they are losing?

Those who regularly communicate with me on Twitter say they have stopped watching Nick regularly when their favorite show isn’t being played enough (iCarly or Big Time Rush are the common two I see). The thing is, most of these people are likely outside Nick’s target demographic range (ages 2-11 mainly), plus they are also likely not a Nielsen household. If you’re not in a Nielsen household, then you do no directly impact the ratings that we see. Ted Linhart, who’s a SVP at USA Network, has a great FAQ article on this issue. While you may not directly impact ratings, you could influence those who are in a Nielsen household.

My only suggestion would be to improve the schedule – make it somewhat consistent and report any schedule changes in plenty of time for TV listings, DVRs, on-screen guides, etc. to update. Cartoon Network and Disney Channel keep things pretty consistent and typically announce changes in ample time (though they have their moments too – but much fewer and far between).