For the first time this year, all the networks mentioned above have sister streamers within the same parent company. The Nick channels are associated with Paramount+, the Disney channels with Disney+, and Cartoon Network and Adult Swim with HBO Max.
Variety has collated Nielsen data on network viewership in 2021, and the numbers paint a grim picture for most channels. Every major broadcaster of animation saw a double-digit slump this year, mirroring the ongoing decline of linear tv.
The context, of course, is the rise of streaming platforms and video sharing platforms, whose viewership is not included in these charts as it is measured so differently. For years, kids’ cable broadcasters have been hemorrhaging viewers to these services, chiefly Netflix and Youtube.
  • 41. Adult Swim (386,000, -25%)
  • 46. Nickelodeon (335,000, -32%)
  • 54. Disney Junior (258,000, -17%)
  • 63. Disney Channel (233,000, -35%)
  • 64. Nick Jr. (232,000, -31%)
  • 72. Cartoon Network (201,000, -26%)
  • 101. Disney XD (83,000, -13%)
  • 107. Nicktoons (67,000, -24%)

Below is a list of the animation networks, with their place in the overall chart, number of viewers, and change on 2020. For context, the top-rated network this year was CBS (5,574,000 viewers), followed by NBC (5,484,000) and ABC (4,077,000).

  • 20. Adult Swim (224,000, -28%)
  • 39. Nickelodeon (119,000, -27%)
  • 49. Disney Junior (91,000, -10%)

Variety also ranked the 50 top-rated networks for the 18–49 age bracket. Three of the animation broadcasters made this list:
All these numbers are on a par with the precipitous drops of the past two years, and continue a downward trend that began before that. Since 2014, Disney Channel has lost 88.1% of its total audience and Adult Swim has dropped by 71.3%. Cartoon Network is down by 79.3% and Nickelodeon by 74.5% since 2016.
Image at top: Nickelodeon’s “The Patrick Star Show”
In other words, don’t expect the bad news for linear to let up.
If you work for Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, or Cartoon Network, you may want to look away now.
More than ever, the parent companies are actively encouraging audiences to adopt streaming by making prestige titles exclusive to those platforms. Disney has sent out a clear message by shutting channels around the world.

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