Is Nielsen Failing TV Networks?

As broadcast networks in the United States are experiencing a steep drop in ratings this season, the stage is set for a three-way debate between television network executives, advertisers, and the Nielsen (NYSE:NLSN) rating system.

Media executives claim that television viewing is higher than ever, with shows watched on an array of devices from digital recorders to smartphones. In the company’s most recent earnings statement, CBS (NYSE:CBS) Executive Chairman Sumner Redstone credited the “record quarter” to “our world-class content and multiplatform distribution strategy.”

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However, data from the Nielsen ratings system depicts a different reality. Average primetime ratings for live and same-day viewing among 18 to 49-year-olds has fallen by more than 10 percent for CBS, Disney’s (NYSE:DIS) ABC, and News Corp’s (NASDAQ:NWSA) Fox, according to UBS investment research. The only network to have registered an increase in average primetime ratings this season is Comcast’s (NASDAQ:CMCSA) NBC, which is up 22 percent.