While the US prime time (8-11 PM) TV audience has remained fairly consistent at around 200 million since the 2001-02 TV season, historical data from The Nielsen Company indicates the makeup of prime time programming has changed significantly. Most notably, reality TV was much more popular in the 2010-11 season (Sept. 20, 2010 – August 28, 2011) than it was 10 years ago, even though it is down from its peak popularity levels.
In 2001-02, reality TV accounted for about 22% of the prime time TV audience watching the top 10 programs. By 2010-11, it accounted for about 56%, an increase of almost 155%. And 2010-11 did not mark the height of reality TV’s popularity during the past decade. In 2007-08, reality TV comprised more than three-quarters (77%) of the audience for the top 10 prime time TV programs, meaning it is down 27% from its peak popularity.
Much of reality TV’s growth in popularity has come at the expense of what was once a mainstay of prime time TV programming, the sitcom. During the 2001-02 season, sitcoms accounted for a healthy 39% of the audience for the top 10 prime time shows. In 2002-03, the reality share of the top 10 prime time show audience almost tripled to 63%, while sitcoms’ share declined by more than half to 17%.
Although reality’s share dropped somewhat to 55% the following season, an increase in the drama audience helped cut the share held by sitcoms almost in half again to 9%. The only other season in which sitcoms have held any share of the audience for the top 10 prime time shows since was 2008-09, when sitcoms held a small 7% share and reality programs lost about a third of their share, falling from 77% to about 50%.
The audience for General Dramas peaked in the 2005-2006 season, accounting for about 43% of the total audience, but decreased by about half last year, consisting of almost 22% of the total audience. Still, they have remained a consistent presence in the top 10, with two low points during the 2002-03 and 2007-08 season that corresponded with surges in reality popularity.
The audience for Sports Events in the top 10 programs has hovered around 8% since the 2001 season, until it more than doubled in the 2009-2010 season and held tight last year.
The unscripted Fox TV show “The X-Factor” led all new fall TV shows in total social impressions between May 1 and September 4, 2011, according to data from Networked Insights. “The X-Factor” generated 7.25 million impressions, more than double the almost 3.08 million impressions generated by the CW drama “Ringer.” In terms of percentage of positive social buzz, the NBC drama “Grimm” dominated with 39% positive buzz, 50% more than the 26% generated by its two closest competitors, the CW drama “Hart of Dixie” and ABC drama “Pan Am.”
About the Data: Nielsen analyzed the broadcast prime ranking reports for the September to September seasons during the past decade (September-August for the 2010-2011 season) to determine the top genres of TV programs. For each season, Nielsen selected the top 10 broadcast primetime programs (ranked on household rating) and added the average audience of each program together, to get one figure for the total combined audience of the top 10 programs. Then, Nielsen added up the average audiences for each genre in the top 10 list and calculated the percentage of the total audience for each.
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