Sopranos Ratings Slide Exposes Flaws in Ratings System

David Kiley

Four weeks into the new Sopranos season, much hand wringing is going on in the media about the apparent ratings slide of the landmark series. Season to-date, The Sopranos is averaging 9.09 million viewers with a 4.2 rating/10 share among adults 18-49, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Compared with the prior season, No. 4 in spring 2004 that's a decrease of 1.38 million viewers (10.47 to 9.09) and 24 percent among adults 18-49 (5.5/13 to 4.2/10). The drama has been declining for three straight weeks.
3/12/06 - Viewers: 9.46 million, A18-49: 4.5/10
3/19/06 - Viewers: 9.18 million, A18-49: 4.4/10
3/26/06 - Viewers: 8.93 million, A18-49: 4.1/ 9
4/02/06 - Viewers: 8.83 million, A18-49: 3.9/ 9

Pundits are chalking this up to two things: The addition of Desperate Housewives on ABC and, some say, the plot line in episode two and three that had Tony in a coma.

I don't have any doubt that DH may be cutting a bit into the ratings, but let's not forget a few things. First, every Sopranos watcher has grown used to the fact that the show is repeated a few times on HBO throughout the week. Second: Cable companies like Comcast put the episodes up on free on-demand, so that we can watch them literally any time we want. Now, THAT's appointment TV! I make the appointment, not HBO. On Demand watching wasn't nearly so prevalent during the last active season of the show. And since then, Comcast, for one, had stacked up the entire run of shows on its OD menu. In other words, we have gotten used to watching the Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, etc. any time we want even without recording the shows on our DVRs.

The point here is...who cares what the ratings are at 9PM Sunday. The numbers are meaningless. I'll bet my 1954 Mickey Mantle baseball card that if you count up all the views of the Sopranos on all the platforms, including the repeats, the ratings are higher than the previous season.

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