“To some degree we’ll look at broadcast in 20 years as being like (telephone) party lines.”

Reed Hastings

Netflix’s CEO is, to some degree, an idiot, but I do wonder what broadcast TV will look like in 20 years.

click to enlarge

To get a sense of the overall network ratings trend, let’s look back 20 years. Luckily, I know just where we can find some ratings information from exactly 20 years ago.

I’ll give you a few minutes to read the chart.

I’ll give you another few minutes to get past the mindbending viewership numbers.

You’re not hallucinating. 19 million people watched a Rescue 911 rerun.

In the last 20 years, viewership has been cut in half, while, paradoxically, the ad rates have risen. That, and the fact that broadcast radio still exists, means there’s a good chance that network television will stick around long enough to celebrate its centennial milestone in 2046.

In 1991, it would have been difficult to predict where FOX and NBC are in 2011, or that two new networks would start up, exist ten years, and merge. It would also have been difficult in 1971 to predict ABC and NBC would be on top in 1991, or that a fourth network would be established.

In the year 2031 …

  • Univision is the highest-rated network.
  • The CW is a rerun package of old CBS sitcoms.
  • NBC dropped the 10pm hour. Their highest-rated program is MMA Roller Derby.
  • My Network TV still airs reruns, but was relaunched as Animation Domination.
  • The WB’s rerun package has beaten NBC for 10 years.
  • Telemundo has been bought and renamed FOXUMUNDO.
  • ABC is owned by the NBA and mostly airs basketball games.
  • CBS’s highest-rated program is Electric Bingo.
  • FOX airs up to three hours of scripted programs per week.
  • Survivor, at long last, takes place on the moon.
  • Evening Newscasts have been replaced by whiffleball matches.
  • And, of course, The Simpsons have been renewed through season 45.



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