NEW YORK — AMC Networks chief operating officer Ed Carroll ran through a brief Nielsen history last week, starting back in the Don Draper days of 1964, when Nielsen counted only 53 million homes and Bonanza holstered the top spot in primetime with some 20 million weekly households.
That elite-show level was maintained by All in the Family and Seinfeld over the decades that followed, even as the U.S. TV universe expanded. It wasn’t until 2005, when CSI: Crime Scene Investigation had some 18 million households and American Idol had 17 million, that numbers began to drop, even with the number of U.S. TV homes reaching 110 million.
In the current season, with 115 million homes, CBS’s NCIS leads the way in some 14 million households, while NBC’s Sunday Night Football and AMC’s The Walking Dead are setting the demo pace with 10 million adult viewers 18-to-49.
Despite disruptive technologies, Carroll said on a keynote panel here last week, Americans have increased their weekly TV use. Still, DVRs, video on demand, TV Everywhere and over-the-top offerings are enabling viewers to screen episodes when and where they want.
These choices, Carroll contended, have improved the overall quality of the medium, paving the way for “more complex, more ambiguous, serial storytelling” and displacing procedurals and closed-end installments previously favored by franchises like CSI and Law & Order.
As such, the proliferation of cable video on demand and subscription video on demand has freshened storytelling overall and inspired more passionate fan bases. Conversely, these technological advances have made for more discerning audiences that “test our resolve as programmers,” Carroll said.
With so much product, it’s often tough to gain notice, particularly with dramas, as viewers decide whether to make a commitment to a new series. Patience, Carroll said, is required, especially with upscale audiences that are not necessarily willing to invest their time until they hear good things about a show, and sometimes wait a half season before tuning in. Others elect to sit out an entire season before catching up or until they discover that a second season has been ordered. “Technology has made viewers much more discerning,” he said.