It looks like the third-quarter ratings verdict is in at Viacom, and it's not pretty.
The picture for primetime is particularly grim. MTV is down a painful 43 percent and 46 percent among adults 18-49 and adults 18-34, respectively, while Comedy Central is down 22 percent in both demos over the same period last year. In total day (which matters most for Nickelodeon), things aren't much better. At Nick, adults 18-34 are off by 25 percent, with 25-54-year-olds down 17 percent—so that takes care of co-viewing with parents. Kids 2-11 changed the channel by fully one quarter, and and kids 6-11 by 23 percent. The only good news on the chart among the media company's flagship properties is that VH1 had some growth (people dig Love & Hip-Hop, looks like).
So what's going on? Well, much of it is almost certainly residual damage from the nine-day staring contest that blacked out Viacom from DirecTV's 20 million subscribers. Still, the fluctuation in the numbers suggests that there's more at work than simple flips of the switch. Even if DirecTV's viewership does account for one-fifth of the every network's distribution, the blackout didn't last the entire quarter.
With both ratings and ad revenues off, it's getting harder and harder for Philippe Dauman to argue that over-the-top deals with streaming providers like Netflix aren't eating into Nick's viewership numbers. And despite some good efforts on the animation side, the network is also having a tough time competing on Disney turf, with live comedy and loads of music-driven programming, and that's going to continue to be an uphill battle.
At MTV, the numbers illustrate just now much the network relies on flagship franchise Jersey Shore. The show's final season premieres on Thursday; last year, it aired in August and gave the network a huge boost. The law of diminishing returns is hard at work on its other (not nearly as big) ratings-getter, Teen Mom, and while MTV is doubling down on Teen Wolf—season 3 will be 24 episodes, rather than 12—that show's highest-rated episode is still its premiere, which pulled in 2.17 million viewers. The last time less than 5 million people watched Jersey Shore was season one.
Comedy Central's dip is harder to explain. The Daily Show does steady numbers. Futurama, despite airing opposite fellow nerd comedy The Big Bang Theory and TLC's inescapable slow-motion tragedy Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, maintains decent numbers (the current season's second half in the spring will probably have a more favorable competitive slate). Tosh.0, the network's highest-rated show, is down a little, but it's also still among the best-rated Tuesday night programs on cable. Ugly Americans is losing steam fast; the show missed the million-viewer mark on 12 of its 17 episodes this summer.
So what's going to happen? For Comedy, syndie rights to Community are promising (cable felt like the show's natural habitat from the beginning), but MTV appears to need major surgery. Nickelodeon has a strong pipeline, at least—the Ninja Turtles franchise has been resurrected on the kids' net, but the time to strategize at all three networks is coming to an end.