NBC's Ratings Problems Are All Football's Fault

The Atlantic Wire

NBC was the toast of the first half of the the television season, with a semi-successful breakout hit in Revolution, and strong ratings across the board. Since the start of the new year, though, things have been different: NBC has been the pits. And, if you look at the numbers, the network is missing Sunday Night Football — and Donald Trump — a lot more than anyone thought.

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We've covered the perils of NBC's 2013 pretty extensively here. No one likes Smash anymore. 30 Rock is over. You'd have trouble finding anyone excited to watch the new Community. The Office is on its death bed (and won't see a boost from a Michael Scott return). Do No Harm was an embarrassment, and then it got canned. Deception is limping like a dog with a cone on its head. And the once-funny Up All Night lost Christina Applegate, and is now one of the most embarrassing clusterclucks in recent primetime history — they actually considered pulling a Bewitched.

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So, what happened? Were the first-half ratings inflated with hot air? Is this all a conspiracy orchestrated by Dan Harmon's illuminati connections to get back at NBC? No, no, and no. The real answer is much simpler, and lies at the feet of America's most popular sport. AdAge's Brian Steinberg looked at the effect football has on NBC's ratings, and he found it is (unsurprisingly) a huge one. Along with The Voice, Sunday Night Football (heralded as the best broadcast in the sport) helped NBC's numbers for the first half of the year increase dramatically:

Regular airings of "Sunday Night Football" (and the popular competition series "The Voice") helped the network increase its 18-to-49 audience year-over-year by 16.2% for the season as of December 30, 2012, according to research from Barclays, while 18-to-49 viewership fell at CBS, Fox and ABC.

But since the start of the new year, things have fallen off. The Voice isn't returning until the end of March, and football isn't back until next September. So, in that void, NBC has seen a 44 percent decline since January 1 over 2012's numbers in the same span of time. There's no immediate Band-Aid that NBC can use to cover up the wound, either — this used to happen to ABC during the end of Monday Night Football's network-TV run, when the next iteration of The Bachelor was more of a way to stop the mid-winter bleeding than anything else. And while, say, bumping up The Voice might staunch things, that's pretty much contractually impossible. Which leaves NBC with the sad-but-true reality to save the second half of their season: Donald Trump and The Celebrity Apprentice return March 3.

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