Ratings for A&E Network have plummeted since it canceled the hit police reality show “Live PD” on June 10, a sign of how much the network relies on law-enforcement programming.
Average prime-time viewership for A&E between June 11 and July 19 was 498,000 people, down 49% from the same period last year, according to data from Nielsen. In the key demographics of adults 18-49 and 25-54, the declines are 55% and 53%, respectively.
The show, which follows police on their rounds in multiple cities simultaneously, averaged about 1.9 million viewers for its Friday and Saturday night episodes, repeatedly re-aired on other days. It spawned several successful spinoff shows, also canceled.
A&E, co-owned by the Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp., dropped “Live PD” in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The death has sparked protests about police violence, a movement to defund the police and broader discussions about race and diversity.
ViacomCBS Inc.’s Paramount Network last month canceled “Cops,” another long-running reality show following police on the beat. With under 500,000 viewers an episode, “Cops” has a much smaller audience than “Live PD.”
Before A&E pulled the show, its prime-time viewership was up 4% from the same period in 2019, according to Nielsen. The network has other popular shows, including “The First 48”—which follows the first two days of a criminal investigation—and “Court Cam,” about outbursts inside courtrooms, but none as successful as “Live PD.”
A&E’s ratings declines go beyond prime time. Total daily average viewership in the weeks since the show was pulled is down 36% from a year earlier, to 319,000 people. In the 18-49 and 25-54 age groups, the declines are even larger: 42% and 46%, respectively.
In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, A&E called the drop a “temporary hit in the ratings” that it expected given the success of “Live PD” and that it has been mostly replaced by reruns. The network said it has always been able to “find new hits and reinvent ourselves.”
The sister shows of “Live PD”—also canceled—include “Live PD: Police Patrol” and “Live PD Presents: PD Cam.” In some weeks, the “Live PD” universe accounted for more than 85% of A&E’s daily programming.
The programs were very profitable to the network, due in part to their low production cost. In 2019, the “Live PD” empire brought in $292.6 million in advertising, according to ad-tracking firm Kantar Media. For the first quarter of 2020, the programs sold $95.8 million in advertising.
In the entertainment industry, Mr. Floyd’s death has led to discussions about the role television and movies play in shaping perceptions of law enforcement and whether portrayals of police have been too one-sided and have failed to address concerns about excessive force and bad policing.
When A&E canceled “Live PD,” the network said: “This is a critical time in our nation’s history and we have made the decision to cease production on ‘Live PD.’ Going forward, we will determine if there is a clear pathway to tell the stories of both the community and the police officers whose role it is to serve them. And with that, we will be meeting with community and civil-rights leaders as well as police departments.”
The franchise’s fan base—the self-dubbed “Live PD Nation”—has been very active on social media, encouraging a boycott of the network until the programs are returned, which A&E hasn’t ruled out.
“We are continuing to listen to both community leaders and ‘Live PD’ fans to find a way to serve both moving forward,” A&E said in its statement to the Journal.