Season snapshot: Is network TV dead?

Some new fall shows on the major networks, like ABC's "Nashville," had plenty of buzz but low ratings.

Story highlights

  • This year's fall TV season has been good to NBC
  • Fox, ABC and CBS are struggling in comparison
  • Part of the problem is a lack of "big new things"
  • One thing that is working for networks are sitcoms
This season has been very good to NBC.
ABC, CBS and Fox — not so much.
This year's television season is only a few weeks old, but there are already signs about how it's shaping up in the ratings.
The news is not good.
For the first three weeks of the 2012-2013 season, according to Ad Age, ABC, CBS and Fox are all down by double-digits in the key 18-49 demo, which helps sell advertising
Only NBC is up.
(Fortunes for The CW, the netlet co-owned by Warner Bros. and CBS, are still unclear.)
Is network TV dying?
According to Robert Thompson, director of The Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, it's not that simple.
"Network TV is certainly not where it was back in the years of the 'Milton Berle Show,'" he said. But he added that the major networks still have the most money, and can grab the most eyeballs, even if viewers have scrambled their viewing habits.
It's not that no one is watching TV — it's just that they're watching it across many different platforms, like laptops and tablets or through streaming services like Hulu.
In this "multichannel universe, narrow-casting is the order of the day," Thompson said.
With so many options, people tend to seek out what's tailored to their tastes, which helps explain the explosion of cable channels since the 1980s.
In 2009, they accounted for more than 40 percent of household viewing, according to Nielsen, while networks made up 25 percent.
"The Walking Dead" is one of TV's biggest shows, dominating its time slot and the cultural conversation — and it's on AMC.
By comparison, Thompson said, part of the networks' problem has been a lack of "big new things:" the shows that can pull people back to their couches.
In 2011, it was "The Voice" on NBC; in 2009, it was ABC's "Modern Family."
"It's not that this year they said no to the next 'Modern Family' and chose the wrong