Erosion of linear TV slows: Prime time C3 ratings down just 6% in Q4

Is the hemorrhaging blood loss of viewers in prime-time linear TV finally starting to slow?

According to Nielsen data compiled by Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger, C3 ratings across all linear channels for non-kids programming in primetime dropped 6 percent in the fourth quarter. This compares to an 8 percent drop in the third quarter. Kids programming was actually up 2 percent, the first time it has recorded an increase since Juenger started compiling his report.

Viacom's Nickelodeon networks -- which had been in ratings freefall -- increased their C3 ratings by an average of 15 percent in the quarter. (C3 ratings count viewing of commercials within programming up to three days after initial airing.)

"Toward the end of the third quarter, we began noticing in our weekly ratings analysis that kids' networks audience declines appeared to be decelerating. Although somewhat surprising, it was not totally unexpected since viewership can go down by double digits only for so long (or we'd shortly have no viewers left)," Juenger said.

While analysts had long suspected use of SVOD services was cutting into linear viewing, it was Juenger who first publicly linked the connection back in late 2014. Since that time, linear ratings have been in a free-fall, dropping double-digits every quarter. 

The steady decline in viewership was abated somewhat by non-comparable events such as the presidential election primary debates (three per party), higher viewership for MLB playoffs/World Series and FOX's ratings behemoth, Empire, Juenger added. 

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