Cable Ratings Fall in 2018; MTV, A&E Buck Trend

Just 18 of 78 ad-supported entertainment channels held or increased their audiences vs. 2017.
MTV; Scott Gries
MTV's 'Jersey Shore Family Vacation' (left), A&E's 'Live PD'

MTV had a good 2018. So did TNT, National Geographic Channel, A&E, TLC, Oxygen and a few others.

The rest of cable's ad-supported entertainment channels? Not so much.

Just 18 of those 78 outlets equaled or increased their primetime audiences from 2017 to 2018. Only 13 had adults 18-49 ratings matching or improving on the previous year, and among the younger subset of adults under 35, just six managed not to lose ground.

The losses on cable aren't quite as steep as on the broadcast nets, but the trend is similar: As the audience that watches linear TV ages, networks are chasing a smaller pool of what have been deemed demographically desirable viewers.

The average primetime audience for cable entertainment channels (excluding news and sports networks and those that aren't ad-supported, like HBO, Showtime and Disney Channel) fell by 7 percent in 2018. Declines among adults 18-49 (-10 percent) and adults 18-34 (-16 percent) were steeper; the drop in the 25-54 demo (-8 percent) was on par with the total audience decline.

NBCUniversal's USA Network will end the year No. 1 among both viewers (averaging 1.48 million through Dec. 10) for the 13th straight year — the longest such streak in TV history — and adults 18-49 (585,000) for the second year in a row. USA is down 9 percent in viewers, however, and 12 percent in the 18-49 demo vs. 2017.

HGTV, TBS, TNT and History round out the top five in viewers; TBS, TNT, MTV and Discovery rank second through fifth in adults 18-49.

MTV had some of the sunniest figures of the year, with Jersey Shore Family Vacation and The Challenge helping the network post double-digit gains in all but the 18-34 demo (where it was up 9 percent). It jumped from sixth place among the under-35 crowd in 2017 to first place this year.

Oxygen's rebrand as a true-crime network continued to pay dividends: It posted the biggest percentage growth in viewers (15 percent, 296,000 to 339,000) of any entertainment channel. The NBCU network also grew a little in adults 25-54 and was steady in adults 18-49.

Among the other positives: A&E grew across the board with a big assist from breakout series Live PD; TLC topped 1 million viewers in primetime and rose in the 18-49 and 25-54 demos; Nat Geo improved in viewers, 18-49 and 25-54; TNT held steady across the board; Bravo finished first for the second year in a row among its core demos of women 18-49 and 25-54; and FXM and the Christian-focused INSP had small gains in total viewers and all three adult demos.

The year was less kind to the likes of FX, Discovery, Syfy, Lifetime, Freeform and AMC, all of which declined by double digits in total viewers and all three key demos. AMC, due in part to steep declines for The Walking Dead, lost more than a third of its 18-34 viewership. And Adult Swim fell by 16 percent in its core 18-34 demo (286,000 to 239,000) and 12 percent in total viewers.