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TV Loses 2.5 Million Viewers This Spring, Imperiling Ad Income
The Associated Press | May 09, 2007 | 12:21 PM EDT

Maybe they're outside in the garden. They could be playing softball. Or perhaps they're just plain bored.

In TV's worst spring in recent memory, an alarming number of Americans drifted away from television the past two months: More than 2.5 million fewer people were watching ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox than at the same time last year, statistics show.

Everyone has a theory to explain the plummeting ratings: early Daylight Savings Time, more reruns, bad shows, more shows being recorded or downloaded or streamed.

Scariest of all for the networks, however, is the idea that many people are now making their own television schedules. The industry isn't fully equipped to keep track of them, and as a result the networks are scrambling to hold on to the nearly $8.8 billion they collected during last spring's ad-buying season.

"This may be the spring where we see a radical shift in the way the culture thinks of watching TV," said Sarah Bunting, co-founder of the Web site Television Without Pity.

To Preview Fall Schedules Next Week

The viewer plunge couldn't have come at a worse time for the networks -- next week they will showcase their fall schedules to advertisers in the annual "up-front" presentations.

The networks argue that viewership is changing, not necessarily declining.

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