NEW YORK: Television's role in the advertising mix is coming under close scrutiny now the figures are in for the first two nights of the fall season and show viewing figures down by up to 20% in a key demographic.

According to ratings firm Nielsen, PUT (people using television) levels during prime-time for the first two nights among 18-49 year olds were down 10% on the same period last year.

And at the younger end of the spectrum the figures were much worse: among 18-24 year olds, viewing was down 20%, a figure that rose to 24% for men in that age group.

New programmes didn't attract the hoped-for numbers while "every returning Tuesday night drama suffered double-digit ratings declines", Advertising Age reported.

"What you can't do on the one hand is say, 'Television is dead,' because there's a huge demand," Rob Norman, chief digital officer of media agency GroupM, told the New York Times. "On the other hand, you can't say 'Everything is OK, television is fine'," he added.

Viewing behaviour has been shifting as people move away from live television to using on-demand and streaming services. That is especially true of scripted dramas, but some have such an appeal that viewing can't be delayed, such as Empire, a Fox series.

"Empire has resonated," said Lia Silkworth, an executive at Tapestry, part of Starcom Mediavest Group's multicultural division. "As an agency, we know that there's going to be a lot of live viewing. People aren't going to want to miss out on being able to talk about what they saw."

Consequently, thirty-second slots on the show are reported to be selling for $0.5m, putting it on a par with live sporting events.

"We have high expectations for how it's going to perform," said Gary Newman, co-CEO and co-chairman of Fox Television Group in remarks reported by Ad Week.

At the same time he conceded that "nothing remains a phenomenon for that long".

Data sourced from Advertising Age, New York Times, Ad Week; additional content by Warc staff