TV Ratings Climb As People Rediscover Live Linear Viewing Amid Coronavirus-Imposed Stay At Home

The Voice
Trae Patton/NBC

March 8 marked the start of Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. Normally, the switch is associated with a Live+Same Day ratings slump for the broadcast networks, especially in the 8 PM hour, as people stay outside longer.

But this year, the week of March 8 marked the turning point in the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., when the threat became real as new cases in the country started skyrocketing and the World Health Organization declaring it a global pandemic. By the end of last week, most companies had instituted work-from-home guidelines, many schools were closed, and restaurants, movie theaters and gyms started to shut down.

As a result of people following the new “social distancing” guidelines and spending more time at home, the typical Daylight Saving Time slump was nonexistent this year. What’s more, broadcast networks have been posting across-the-board, week-to-week, Live+SD ratings increases the likes of which we had not seen in ages, and which had been considered a thing of the past amid the proliferation of streaming.

This past Monday, NBC’s The Voice, an 8 PM show, leaped a whopping 38% (five tenths of a rating point) week-to-week among adults 18-49 (1.8 vs. 1.3) and 1.1 million total viewers (9.67 million vs. 8.73 million) to deliver the highest-rated and most watched Monday or Tuesday edition of the singing competition in a year.

Last night, NBC’s Ellen’s Game of Games, also a 8 PM program, climbed 44% (four tenths) in the demo and added 1.6 million viewers for its best L+SD marks in more than a year. The network’s This Is Us rose three tenths in the demo on Tuesday, while CBS’ Bull and Bob Hearts Abishola posted season highs Monday.

Streaming had been tipped as a major beneficiary of the current mandate for staying home, but viewers — and many of them younger — are also checking out traditional TV.

Primetime PUT (People Using Television) levels among total viewers were up every day last week, with strong week-to-week gains on both Saturday and Sunday night. Monday’s HUTs (Households Using Television) levels were the highest for a Monday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 13).

Daytime and late-night usage levels were also have been up. For instance, since last Friday, Nickelodeon’s portfolio of linear networks have been up 16% with kids 2-11 compared with the prior four weeks.

Ratings experts expect viewing levels’ growth to continue as more people stay home amid expanding restrictions, including quarantines, around the country.

As for any long-term effect, it is too early to say whether younger viewers who discovered appointment viewing on broadcast TV will come back when the outbreak is over. But for the time being the ratings uptick may be the only good news for the networks, which are facing losses from the suspension of most major sports, unfinished seasons as many series shut down over COVID-19 fears before wrapping production, and a pilot-season washout.

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