Do 'Empire's Falling Ratings Mean We Should Start Worrying About The Series? Not So Fast

They say that all empires fall, eventually — but this couldn't be the case with FOX's Empire , right? The addictively soapy hip hop drama premiered to huge numbers last January and quickly drew the attention of TV executives and fans alike for doing the impossible: attracting more and more people every week. Traditionally, shows start with big numbers for the premieres and then decline sharply in the second week before plateauing for the rest of the season. However, Empire's audience grew all 12 weeks of its freshman season, from 9.9 million for the premiere to 17.62 million for the finale, making it the highest-rated scripted program on broadcast television in the 2014-'15 season.

The question for Season 2 was: would Empire continue to grow or would it finally plateau? The answer is neither, as it turns out: So far this year, Empire has completely reversed its Season 1 trend, shedding viewers four episodes in a row. The number of viewers has declined from 16.18 million for the Season 2 premiere (down already from the Season 1 finale) to 12.2 for this Wednesday's episode, and the rating in the all-important 18-49 demographic has fallen from its series high of 6.9 to a 4.6. That's a 24.6 percent and a 33.3 percent decline in the audience and the demo already this season. Empire's numbers haven't been this low since the show's sixth episode, the halfway point of its first season.

So, what gives? There are a number of feasible explanations for Empire's decline. One could argue that no show could possibly maintain that level of insane buzz for very long. Given that ABC's How To Get Away With Murder also returned down from its Season 1 highs as well, this would make sense. One could also certainly argue that Empire has more competition now, airing in the overcrowded fall season, than it did when it debuted at midseason last January.

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But, there's no reason to abandon all hope. Even with its recent underperformance (relatively speaking), Empire is still the highest-rated scripted show on the Big Five networks. It handily beats its time slot competitors every Wednesday night. (This week, while Empire pulled its 12.2 million/4.6 rating, Modern Family came in second with 7.8 mil/2.6 and Supernatural brought up the rear with 1.9 mil/0.8.) The only broadcast program that can even come close to Empire is CBS's The Big Bang Theory, which trailed behind Empire's 7.1 average rating last season with its own average of 5.6. (The closest drama is Scandal, which averaged a 4.3 rating last season.)

Furthermore, the news isn't so dire when delayed viewing is taken into account. The show's Live+7 ratings (the number of people who watch a show within a week of the original airing, including DVR replay and OnDemand streaming) show huge increases. In fact, Empire's Season 2 premiere boasted the biggest rating increase when L+7 was factored in, bumping up the episode 2.7 points to a staggering 9.4 ratingjust edging out the Season 1 finale's L+7 rating of 9.3 to become the show's highest-rated episode. In this day and age of increasing viewing options, it's hard to tell how seriously networks take information like DVR viewing into consideration; but numbers like that certainly can't hurt.

So there's no need to start panicking just yet, Cookie Monsters. If this downward trend stabilizes soon, broadcast's biggest show will retain its title with room to spare. Empire is still undeniably the king.

Images: Chuck Hodes/FOX (2)