Throughout the past few years, a common theme has been occurring in the world of television. First, live ratings for an episode of a show get posted. Then the fans get scared because the ratings either dropped, or they’re just simply not as high as they once were. Is this actually that significant in the grand scheme of things, or has the world of television just simply changed?

a coffee mug sits on a table in front of a tv that has netflix's logo on it
photo by: John-Mark Smith

Humans thrive on convenience. Ordering something off of Amazon rather than driving to the mall, throwing something in the air fryer or microwave rather than the oven, using a streaming app instead of using the radio, and ordering food on UberEats instead of cooking it at all are just a few examples of how the way people live has changed over the past few years. And yes, this includes television.

Cable television hit its peak in the early 2010s, and since then, it’s been on a steady decline. This decline wasn’t immediately apparent to everyone, but now it’s glaringly obvious. Big-name cable companies are either making their own streaming services or signing deals with existing ones, and live ratings have begun to scare viewers every season.

a collage of six photos; image one: a woman is running in an FBI uniform with a bulletproof vest on, she has a beanie on; image two: a woman is undercover with a bullet proof vest on; image three: a woman is teaching in a green and black striped dress. she stands with her hands clasped in front of her; image four: a man stands in a navy firefighters' uniform. he has his radio striped across diagonally, he's wearing sunglasses. image six: a man stands in a suit with his arms crossed. he's looking off to the side.
(left to right) Images from CBS, CBS, ABC, FOX, and NBC

It’s almost like clockwork. A show’s live ratings are dropping, and they’re lower than they were the season or even episode before. As mentioned above, a large part of this is due to convenience. Beforehand, a person would have to be home and in front of their television by a certain time to be able to watch their favorite show. Now, with the small risk of seeing spoilers, nobody has to make time to watch their favorite shows. Instead, they can wait till they have time. Most network shows, Abbott Elementary, Grey’s Anatomy, One Chicago, 9-1-1, NCIS, FBI, and more, come on anywhere from 8-10 p.m. and are available to stream early the following day. Even though I enjoy having a set time to look forward to watching my shows, even I have found myself skipping the choice to watch live at times.

There’s also another challenge that streaming services bring to the table: they have their own scripted shows. In most cases, the audience can finish an entire season in a day, whereas network shows take most of the year to finish. 

Former DirecTV/AT&T Audience Network Programming Chief Chris Long even said, “I think it’s ten years, and there’ll be a total change of guard.” This is interesting since even DirecTV now has its own streaming service version. After all, why would people continue to pay for channels that they rarely watch? Especially now, in an age where many live award shows and sporting events are also broadcast through streaming services. 

Television has definitely changed, and it will continue to do so in the future. However, I don’t think it’s changed enough to where fall TV is gone yet. Nevertheless, some shows still attract an average of 10 million viewers per episode. So, while the fact that it is evolving is irrefutable, we still have a while to go before it changes permanently.