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What Show Had the Richest Audience? What Was the Biggest New Hit? A Deep Dive Into 2013’s TV Ratings

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If you've been paying even a little bit of attention to TV ratings in 2013, you know the year's biggest trends: Cable continues to steal audience share from broadcast with megahits such as The Walking Dead and Duck Dynasty; DVRs are more important than ever; and America loves it some CBS. Dive deeper into the 2013 Nielsen ratings, however, and interesting things are revealed: Cable is starting to cannibalize itself; niche hits are multiplying; and the difference between what young and old viewers watch is astounding. Vulture gathered up reams of ratings data and started digging in.



More Established Cablers Are Feeling Some Pain
While cable continues to take away viewers from broadcast, the biggest cable networks are now seeing their audiences cannibalized as well. Fully half of the ten most-watched cable nets in 2013 saw prime-time viewership decline: USA (-8 percent), History (-2 percent), TNT (-2 percent), ESPN (-7 percent), and Fox News (-14 percent). A&E, which saw its overall audience jump 10 percent this year, had the best performance of any of the top ten nets in overall viewership. Among the 50 biggest cablers, Oprah Winfrey's OWN claimed bragging rights, with its audience jumping 27 percent from 2012. And among younger viewers, AMC was 2013's growth story: It grew 41 percent with viewers under 35 and 30 percent with those under 50.

The Biggest New Hit of the Year
… is clearly Blacklist. Yes, it's still early, it hasn't aired away from The Voice yet, and we all remember what happened to Revolution. (Refresher course: NBC hyped it as a huge hit a year ago last fall, but when the show moved away from The Voice, it totally tanked.) Despite those caveats, Blacklist has all the hallmarks of becoming a game-changing hit for NBC. It's drawing more total viewers than The Walking Dead, and it will end 2013 as the No. 5 show on all of TV among viewers under 50, outrating the combined spring and fall averages of The Voice and Fox's American Idol. It does well with both men and women. And while it’s getting big same-day ratings, it's also setting records with its DVR replays. (That's the best of all worlds.) Overall, Blacklist is NBC's most-watched new show since The Apprentice debuted in 2004 and its most-watched new drama since ER bowed in 1994. Even if it fades a bit next year, it's shaping up to be the kind of show that runs 200 episodes. The other top newcomers among adults under 50: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Sleepy Hollow, The Following, and Under the Dome. All five dramas ended up among the top 25 shows of the year with younger viewers (and that's combining broadcast and cable).

Cable Keeps Getting Bigger …
Despite headaches for some of the top nets, cable's biggest hits are getting bigger: Five of the year's top 25 shows among viewers under 50 were on cable. AMC had two big 18 to 49 hits, with The Walking Dead (No. 1 in all of TV) and Breaking Bad (No. 13); ditto FX, with American Horror Story: Coven (No. 18) and Sons of Anarchy (No. 21). A&E's Duck Dynasty was the No. 3 show on TV in 2013, outrating Modern Family, The Voice, and American Idol. Overall, cable's share of the under-50 audience reached a new high in 2013 (70 percent), with the Big Four down three percentage points from 2012 to collectively capturing just 30 percent of viewing in the demo. The demo most likely to make cable shows a big hit? Men under 35. Five of TV's top ten entertainment shows in the dude-bro demo belong to cable: The Walking Dead (No. 1), Breaking Bad (No. 2), Duck Dynasty (No. 3), South Park (No. 6), and Game of Thrones (No. 9).

… But Older Women are Still Attached to Broadcast Nets
The demo still waving the broadcast flag (and thus most likely to shun cable) is women age 25 to 54. The only cable show on their top ten list is The Walking Dead, which just makes it at No. 10. By contrast, three shows that don't make the top ten among all adults 18 to 49 — The Voice results show, NCIS, and Scandal — are all still squarely in the top ten for this older-female demo. The most popular show with women 25 to 54? CBS's The Big Bang Theory, with Grey's Anatomy in second.

The Generation and Gender Gaps Are Killing The Good Wife
CBS's Sunday drama landed on all sorts of year-end critics' lists. And it does pretty well in overall audience — with 11.7 million viewers this year, it ranks No. 36 among all TV shows, broadcast and cable. But among viewers 18 to 49, the demo advertisers really value, the show finished at No. 106; it falls all the way down to No. 223 among viewers under 35. What's more, all the young dudes who watch Sunday football on CBS can't run away from it fast enough: Of Good Wife’s overall audience of 11.7 million viewers, just 259,000 are men under 35. More young men watched ABC's short-lived reality flop Splash (279,000) and NBC's Betty White–hosted Off Their Rockers (269,000).

Minority Report
Among African-American adult viewers under 50, Scandal is the No. 1 non-sports show on broadcast, doubling the numbers of the No. 2 show of 2013 (American Idol) and nearly tripling the ratings of the No. 3 show, lead-in Grey's Anatomy. Among Latinos and Asians under 50, however, comedy rules: The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family finish No. 1 and 2, respectively. (By contrast, those two comedies don't even crack the top twenty with African-Americans.) Among the major networks, Fox does particularly well with minority audiences: It has seven of the top twenty shows with African-Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos.

This Is Why Networks Shouldn't Be So Quick to Cancel Shows
In 2012, ABC canceled Cougar Town, convinced it could do better than a comedy that was averaging 2.4 million viewers under the age of 50. In 2013, the show moved to TBS, and its audience got smaller: It averaged 1.7 million in the 18-49 demo (2.4 million total). And yet, here's the ironic part: That smaller demo number on TBS still ended up being bigger than a slew of shows ABC aired in 2013 instead of Cougar Town: Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition (1.6 million), the five episodes of Happy Endings that ABC aired on Fridays at 8 (1.6 million), the ABC News show What Would You Do? (1.6 million), the once-mighty game show Wipeout (1.5 million), drama series Motive (1.5 million), comedy bomb Family Tools (1.4 million), and the Anthony Edwards dud Zero Hour (1 million). Cougar Town might not have been a huge hit for ABC, but its move to TBS proved it had a loyal audience — one that ABC lost out on when it gave up on the show.

Skew You
Fox has some of the youngest-skewing shows on network TV. All of its Sunday-night toons boast viewers whose median age is 34 or younger (with The Cleveland Show skewing youngest, 31 years old). New Girl (34) and The Mindy Project (35) are the youngest-skewing live-action shows on the Big 4; the CW's The Carrie Diaries (34) and The Vampire Diaries (34) are similarly bereft of older viewers. Some shows you'd expect to have a more youthful audience still have plenty of Gen-Xers and above watching, though. The median age of the Glee viewer is now 41; CW's Arrow is up to 48 (two years older than that of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). And then there are shows that are just as old as you'd expect: Viewers of ABC's Dancing With the Stars have a median age of 61. Among network shows, only Blue Bloods (62) skews older. By contrast, TV's biggest show — The Walking Dead — has a median age of 33. (Which, you’ll note, is the same age Jesus was when he rose from dead. Coincidence? Or biblically foretold?)

If I Were a Rich Man (I'd Probably Watch Modern Family)
ABC's Modern Family had the most affluent audience of any broadcast show in 2013, with its viewers boasting a median income of $82,400. The show with the lowest median income? The CW's short-lived game show Oh Sit! Still, wealthy-ish folks make bad viewing choices, too: After Modern Family, the TV show with the second richest audience profile was NBC's Smash, whose audience boasted a median income of $81,100. Other shows whose viewers had a median income over $75,000 (in descending order of wealth): The Amazing Race, Fringe, The Bachelorette, The Good Wife, Happy Endings, The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, 60 Minutes, Don't Trust the B--- in Apt. 23, and Suburgatory. As for lower income shows, the series with audiences making do with median incomes of $45,000 or lower (in addition to Oh Sit!): American Dad, Cops, Perfect Score, and The Cleveland Show.

Musn't-See TV (Unless You're Older)
Without The Office, 30 Rock, and Up All Night on its air this fall, NBC was pretty sure it would get a big bump in viewers. Just the opposite happened, with the Peacock suffering double-digit declines versus already-anemic year-ago averages. And the Peacock's new Thursday lineup of Must-Family TV didn't just lose eyeballs, it lost young viewers, leaving its audience both smaller and older. In the 9 to 10 p.m. hour, Sean Saves the World and The Michael J. Fox Show have median ages of 51, making them more than a decade older than Office and Parks (which each had a median age of 36 earlier this year). And it's not just Thursday. Almost all of NBC's new shows this fall skew older than the shows they replaced, with one exception: Friday's Dracula is a bit younger than Dateline. While this isn't altogether a bad thing — in the case of a show like Blacklist, it just means more people are watching NBC and pushing up the median age — in general, advertisers prefer shows with younger skews.

Great Buzz, No Viewers
Plenty of people have caught up through repeats and VOD, but in its initial run, BBC America's Orphan Black drew a very small crowd: Just 661,000 viewers on average. But it's hardly the only highly praised cable effort to struggle for eyeballs. IFC's most recent season of Portlandia drew only 514,000 viewers last winter. Its numbers are gigantic, however, compared to some of the net's other comedy offerings: Maron averages 187,000 viewers with first-run episodes, while Comedy Bang Bang settled for 122,000. (To put that in context: Nearly 1,300 other shows in 2013 had a bigger audience than Comedy Bang Bang.) And maybe subtitles do keep viewers away: Despite stellar reviews, the French drama The Returned averaged only 174,000 viewers for its first four episodes. That's around one percent of the viewership for that other zombie show airing on Sundance’s sister net, AMC.

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