After 13 years on the air, SpongeBob is facing a crisis:
The average number of viewers aged 2 to 11 watching Spongebob at any given time dropped 29% in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to Nielsen.
And because “Spongebob” is the backbone of Nickelodeon — accounting for as much as 40% of the network’s airtime late last year — it is dragging down the whole network. Nickelodeon’s ratings fell 25% in the quarter, after a more-modest fall-off in the second half of last year.
Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger notes that “SpongeBob” could affect the ratings of other Nickelodeon programming because children often change channels to find their favorites program, then stay tuned in to that network.
“SpongeBob” still averages two million viewers in the 2-11 age group during its top Saturday-morning showtime, according to Nielsen data provided by Nickelodeon. A Nickelodeon spokesman says “‘SpongeBob’ and the rest of our network were performing consistently well as it has for years until the sudden ratings decreases that we experienced in September. It remains the number one rated animated series in all of kids’ television and there is nothing that we have seen that points to ‘SpongeBob’ as a problem.”
The drop may be due to overexposure — “SpongeBob” accounted for 31% of Nickelodeon’s programming — or to its availability on Netflix — or to the Pediatrics paper noting that SpongeBob impairs kids’ thinking.