Americans Are Fleeing Television


Joe Biden recently gave his first speech to both houses of the American Congress. All major networks, plus all of cable news, carried the speech in its entirety. Yet despite this blanketing of the television channels, a familiar outcome was reported the next day. According to Forbes, under 27 million people watched the address. That’s less than ten percent of the United States population. In comparison, Donald Trump’s first speech to a joint session of Congress four years ago was watched by 47.7 million people without internet included.

You might be lured into thinking this is going to be a political article. It really isn’t. What we’re seeing with the ratings for Joe Biden’s first speech to Congress is following a concerning trend for American television: it moves across many different forms of entertainment and information. It points to an United States that is becoming less cohesive, with people tuning out in mass.

Let’s take a look at Super Bowl ratings as an example:

Up until 2011, Super Bowl viewership increased year after year after year. It was as predictable as the gradual increase of the Dow Jones. But starting in 2012, less people were watching the big game. While the losses at first were so small as to be unconcerning, the past three years have seen an exodus of people away from one of American culture’s biggest nights. Look at these drops, and as you do, remember that we did an article about how Nielson even implemented a new stat for this year that likely inflates the ratings beyond what’s real.

OoH Stat Introduced, Inflating Super Bowl Numbers

NFL Ratings by Year
2018: 43.00 Million
2019: 39.95 Million
2020: 38.67 Million
2021: 34.28 Million

Numbers Courtesy: SMW

In a country that has gained close to 30 million more people since the last Census, somehow the biggest sports event of the year is dropping viewers precipitously. Since 2011, Super Bowl numbers are down by 34.7%!

“Oh, but it’s just football,” you say. “What does this have to do with Joe Biden, and why is this article on a Disney news site?” Hang in there, I’ll show you.

Let’s now go to the NBA Finals. Because the series can change so much from game to game, we’ll just look at the first game for each of the past four years:

Game 1 of NBA Finals by Year
2017: 20.38 Million
2018: 17.56 Million
2019: 15.40 Million
2020: 7.45 Million

Numbers Courtesy: Wikipedia

We can keep going like this with just about every American sport. Other than golf and hockey, it all looks pretty darn similar. For whatever reason, Americans have stopped watching. And whatever you want to attribute it to, let us remind you again that it is, in all likelihood, far worse since the ratings are being inflated by a new OoH statistic. At a time when people have been stuck at home like no other time in history, they’ve decided not to watch sports. How in the world can networks with massive sports league contracts, and networks dependent on sports (like ESPN), continue to function with drops like this? The NBA finals have dropped by a whopping 66% in just four years!

When it comes to Disney, their stock was basically saved this past year by Disney+. With every other facet of their company crippled by the pandemic, Disney managed to sail through 2020 and early 2021 due in no small part to Disney+ subscriptions taking off like a rocket. Suddenly, though, with only half of Netflix’s customers, Disney has made the decision to stop announcing Disney+ numbers. Have you ever heard of a company deciding they don’t want to tell good news?

If you’ve been following Pirates and Princesses, you know that we’ve been sounding the alarm based on our observation of internet searches around Disney+ headliner content. In case you’re not aware, it peaked tremendously with the final episode of The Mandalorian Season 2, and internet interest in Disney+ headliner content ever since has been dropping like a rock:

The blue line is internet searches for The Mandalorian, the red is Wandavision, and the yellow is The Falcon and The Winter Soldier (simplified to anything that has “winter soldier” in the search since that yields the most favorable results for Disney). Do you see a major trend here?

Anybody watch The Oscars this week? If you did, you were in a group of about 3% of all Americans. That awards show dropped to 10.4 million viewers — a loss of 56% of their prior year audience. Can you imagine being an advertiser and losing 56% of your value in one year alone?

“Collectively, the four biggest awards shows — the Emmys, Globes, Grammys and Oscars — lost a staggering 35 million viewers from their previous telecasts in the 2019-20 season, suffering an average drop of 45 percent.” — The Hollywood Reporter

Oscars Hit Ratings Low

To add to all of this, when you look at legacy media’s offerings on YouTube, you see something that is potentially even more worrying. Looking at the various Late Night shows and their offerings on YouTube, nearly everything they post has tremendous viewership but exceedingly low interactions. While much of legacy media’s offerings are getting views, they’re also being advertised at very high levels, being recommended aggressively by algorithms, and yet getting abysmal engagement with their audience. Go check out their likes, dislikes, and comments, then compare that to any indie YouTuber. Our own Kneon from Clownfish TV has noted that the Star Wars official YouTube channel dwarfs Clownfish TV in subscribers, yet Clownfish TV matches them on views… and certainly destroys them in like-to-dislike ratios.

What the heck is going on?

While you’re seeing major media declare that this is all to be expected and it’s totally normal that people are tuning out, trust me, it isn’t. There was every reason in the world for ratings to skyrocket during the pandemic. The opposite has happened. And companies like Disney, Universal, Paramount, and more, should all be terrified right now. If people continue to leave television content at this rate, there is simply no way that entertainment and live television markets can continue without a massive bubble bursting. We’re raising the red flag right now on this issue. And for America, the idea that huge numbers of people are rejecting the culture is an indication of demographics parting ways with one another.

How long can professional athletes garner amazing wages if half the people are watching from just a few years ago? How can Disney+ content continue to bring in more subscribers if less and less people care about what they’re producing? And how can we, as a society, continue to function cohesively if we’re leaving the previously neutral entertainment spaces we all once inhabited?

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