Viacom's revenue fell 3% in the last quarter of 2011, and that trend looks to continue into 2012. Such a concern was this trend, that in an investors meeting CEO Phillippe Dauman pledged to spend $3 billion on programming this year. Key concerns seem to be Viacom's biggest 3 cable networks: Nickeloeon, Comedy Central, and MTV. A look at the numbers shows Nickelodeon ratings down 28% in the first quarter this year in the age 6-11 bracket, MTV's Jersey Shore falling from 8 million viewers down to 6, and Comedy Central's primetime ratings down 15% in the first quarter.
(Source: NY Times, NY Post)
What are the causes for these trends?
Well I think the easiest to fix is MTV. People got sick of Jersey Shore. That's it. The show has been on too frequently, moving the cast from Miami, to Italy, and back to Jersey in the span of a year. Oversaturation. 'Jersey Shore' is now on hiatus, and MTV is planning several spinoffs centering around the more likeable characters. Which I think will work. Viewers got tired of the rehashed drama between the housemates, so taking a few of the characters out of that element should provide new entertainment value with familiar characters.
And yes, people always complain, MTV doesn't have any 'music tv' at all. They don't show music videos anymore". But the reality is, it doesn't make sense to use ad-generating air time to show music videos that I can go find on youtube in a matter of seconds. They realized this back in the mid-90's, then killed it off when 'Total Request Live' ratings finally started to tank. The Internet won that battle.
Comedy Central just can't find any programming to fill the times between last night's episodes of 'The Daily Show' and 'The Colbert Report' (6:00 pm) and tonight's episodes of 'The Daily Show' and 'The Colbert Report' (11:00 pm). They rely mostly on syndicated repeats of other network's shows (30 Rock, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia). Don't get me wrong, I like those shows and will watch some of the repeats if there's nothing else on, but they can't carry ratings for a network. Comedy Central's original programming is very hit-or-miss. Recently, Tosh.0 has fallen off ratings-wise after a strong first and second season. South Park is still a draw, with Ugly Americans a decent draw after, but the network hasn't been able to build a solid block of programming around only a few performing shows. (Workaholics is also fantastic, almost slipped my mind)
And don't get me started on Futurama. I loved the original run of that show. Something about the new episodes is just off... They managed to get all of the original voice cast back, which is great, but not all of the original writing cast... which made those actors' dialogue great. I still watch, but mostly in deference to the original show.
The biggest contributor to Viacom's falling revenue is Nickelodeon, which has long been Viacom's cash cow.
Their ratings have just been dropping like a rock, tied to an anchor, tied to Lindsay Lohan's career (We'll always have Mean Girls). Outside of pre-school age, Nick's programming is tanking lately. Not entirely sure what to chalk it up to. I know my cousin (age 9) loves the Cartoon Network shows 'Adventure Time' and 'Regular Show', but he doesn't really watch any Nick cartoons. Frankly, I think Spongebob has run its course and become very stale. On top of that, its core audience has grown up a little too much to continue to be reliable viewers. Beyond that it seems most of the other Nick cartoons are awful movie tie-ins: The Backyardigans, some Kung-Fu panda show. Those seem like bad ideas from the word 'go'. You'll never build an audience with shows like that, only draw off the popularity of the movie and nothing more. They're short-lived ratings boosts at best. On top of that, Nick has to pay for the rights to those characters, instead of more cheaply trying to invent some original content to build into a hit (like Spongebob).
I know my cousin does at least watch those live-action shows: ICarly, Victorious, and (sigh) Big Time Rush. The Dan Schneider shows. They're not all bad to be honest, just mostly bad. The first ep of ICarly I watched with my cousin had a reference to 'The Wire' in it. I think my brain shut down in shock for a good 5 seconds after I saw it.
Despite the fact that the formula for those shows is extremely stale, they continue to draw ratings. I'm not even sure if these shows are really that cheap to produce since they create "stars" quickly, who I'm sure demand a "star" salary. The only other thing that drives me crazy is that they're all music shows. The main characters all seem to sing/be singers. They must do well with record deals I suppose. Oh, and on iCarly, all the characters seem to shout all their lines... all the time.
It would be nice to see a live-action show on that channel that follows a different formula. Get away from Dan Schneider a bit. Maybe bring back a show like 'Are You Afraid of the Dark?'. Anything really to change things up a little. I understand the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" philosophy, but there is a downward trend, albeit a slow one. Kids like familiarity, but curiosity and excitement over something fresh and new is there too.
Then again, maybe the larger overarching issue here is the rise of streaming services cutting into tv ratings. If that's the case, I'm not sure much really can be done for the large cable companies at all.