The Oprah Winfrey Show had its lowest audience in its 24-year history according to Nielsen this past week whilst CNN’s primetime show with Larry King Live also plummeted and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno was seeing a million less viewers from a year ago. To add to the woes, it would appear that a general declining audience trend is growing amongst America s big networks including CNN, Fox and MSNBC.
Where are all the viewers going? One reason for the decline in Oprah’s network could be because she announced the show would end in 2011, which may have encouraged viewers to switch to alternative programs. Larry King, who earlier announced his retirement, has been on air for 25 years, and audiences want something new. As for Jay Leno, it could be argued that last year s high profile guests including President Obama, and Conan O Brien s debut kept the show popular but as he trails behind his competitors it doesn’t look good.
A more likely story is a shift in technology has changed the way people watch TV, with a massive audience exodus online. As social media becomes more interactive, people want to multi-task whilst watching their favorite show. Online TV has been slow to take off, despite many networks taking their shows to viewers who want to watch streaming shows. In the UK, the BBC has seen a general decline for years on all its channels, because people simply don’t watch as much TV anymore hence it launched the BBC I player. Advertisers are switching their focus to online but the revenues are not enough for broadcasters to make money from their online shows, yet.
Websites such as Ustream could become mainstream as live online shows allow people to interact with each other, whereas on TV you have no interaction with other viewers. However, the industry may change once more with the rise of 3D.