A strike by writers and actors will cause television viewership to drop by 9 percent this fall, according to an independent study that rates ABC and Fox as best able to weather the storm.
The analysis, by the New York-based advertising agency TN Media, also calls the TV networks "strangely complacent" about a potential strike.
A contract covering 11,000 writers in Hollywood expires May 1, and contracts covering 135,000 actors expire July 1. Negotiations are scheduled to resume for the first time in six weeks on April 17.
The projected viewership decline is based on the past ratings performance of reruns, reality shows and newsmagazines--the fare that is expected to dominate network schedules in the event of a protracted strike.
Add in the usual erosion of viewers that broadcasters suffer from every year, and the TV audience could be around 15 percent smaller than it was last fall, said Stacey Lynn Koerner, vice president of broadcast research at TN Media.
While networks claim they are well-prepared for a strike, "they can't really believe that," the report said.
"If they think viewers will simply watch anything they throw on the air, they're kidding themselves."
ABC is sitting pretty because its most popular show, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," will not be affected by a strike. It already airs four nights a week. With NFL football on Monday nights and two reality series, "The Mole" and "The Runner," ABC may not even need to show reruns in the fall, TN Media said.
Fox is airing the baseball playoffs and World Series and the second edition of "Temptation Island." It has also stockpiled 55 episodes of new series.
Although CBS has a third "Survivor" planned for the fall, the report predicted more than one-third of the network's schedule will be reruns. NBC will have about 20 percent reruns.
"There are some that seem very well prepared," Koerner said. "Others do not. CBS is more of a mystery. It's hard to tell whether they're less prepared or whether (CBS President) Leslie Moonves is holding things close to the vest."
Advertisers are concerned about these contingency plans because they must decide over the next few months how to allocate millions of dollars worth of commercials for the fall season.
Koerner doesn't anticipate a long strike doing lasting damage to the business.
"Viewers love television," she said. "They may get annoyed for the period of time that their favorite shows are off the air, but once they're back on the air, they will come back."
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