Updated 03/27/2009 

In the 1994-95 season 43% of U.S. households watched one of the four TV networks; in the 2007-08 season only 27% watched one of the four TV networks.

As the LCD formula diminished in influence, programming on pay services such as HBO and channels that catered to more specialized audiences, such as FX were free to produce more sophisticated and specialized programming.







We no longer share a common TV experience.


SUNY professor Elayne Rapping says that the fracturing of the TV audience has "created a craving for the culture that used to unify us as a nation.".


red dot For some time network television has been heading the way of the dinosaur.

During the 1952-52 television season the top network show (I Love Lucy) pulled in almost 70% of the total TV audience.  However, in the 2007-08 season the top network show (American Idol) could only get 16% of the audience.

Fact is, each year since the 50s the share of viewers for network television has been dropping.

But those viewers didn't just disappear, they went somewhere, and that "somewhere" was viewing TV programming by outlets such as cable, satellite, the Internet, and even iPhones.

So while TV network viewing is down, the total time spent viewing video (of some sort) has been steadily increasing.

>> Back in the I Love Lucy Days the LCD (audience's Lowest Common Denominator of interest) used to be a bit of a magic formula for reaching needed audience sizes.

Today, we have programming outlets designed to appeal to specific needs and tastes. Programming from HBO, The Discovery Channel, CNN, Hulu. and dozens of other services have siphoned away the majority of the network audience.

>> As network audiences have diminished, advertising revenue has been impacted and funds for producing major, award-winning dramatic series such as West Wing, have diminished.  Instead, less expensive productions, such as talent and talk shows are replacing them.

Just one example of niche programming is the Emmy-winning series, Damages, which couldn't draw anything like the 30-million viewers needed to survive on a broadcast network.  But it doesn't need to.  The relatively select audience and lower production costs are enough to make it a success at this level. (Awards for excellence don't hurt either.)

>> Although programming may have gotten better at interesting and appealing to segments of the population, today's segmented, niche audiences mean that we no longer share a common TV experience.

Unlike a few decades ago when everyone could talk around the water cooler about a TV show they saw the night before, today you may find that you are the only one who saw a particular show.

Office water coolers aside, the Internet is full of discussion groups covering about any program that can be viewed.  And if that isn't enough, there's Twitter, where you can share minute-by-minute comments with your friends