Strike's impact 'negligible'

Report: TV viewing won't decline

A leading Madison Avenue researcher said that there won't be permanent damage to viewing habits from the ongoing writers strike.

Steve Sternberg, executive vp audience analysis at New York-based ad buyer Magna Global, said in a report released Tuesday that it was "nonsense" that this is the worst time for a strike with a new-media landscape. He also debunked the idea that YouTube and MySpace, among others, would get a big boost from the strike as viewers go elsewhere.

"Video streaming is currently a minor occurrence and is primarily driven by new television content," Sternberg wrote. "The impact on TV viewing, even during a lengthy strike, will be negligible."

Sternberg said TV viewing hasn't declined in 20 years, though he conceded that it might shift as some viewers go to cable for the originals they don't see on broadcast TV.

"Just as overall television usage declines sharply every summer and then rebounds come fall, it will rebound once the writers strike ends," Sternberg wrote.

The 1988 writers strike caused about a 9% decline in primetime viewing, and Magna Global predicts that there will be a 9% decline in primetime viewing in adults 18-49 for the broadcast networks between January and May if the writers strike lasts that long. That has been backed up by other independent analyses.

The declines will be steepest in the spring, with a predicted 12% drop in April and 13% in May, while broadcast TV viewing will decline 5% in January and February and 8% in March. Sternberg said that viewers have been conditioned by as much as a 36% repeat load during December, January and March, which differs from the 14% during the non-sweep time in 1988. Sternberg also wrote that such reality shows as "Dancing With the Stars" and "American Idol" didn't exist when the strike began in 1988.

"The overall impact on ratings may not be as great as some fear," Sternberg wrote.