'Duck Dynasty' ratings declines: Controversy isn't the whole story

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"Duck Dynasty" opens its seventh season on A&E Wednesday (Nov. 19), and its premiere will likely be one of the most-watched shows on cable for the night.

It will also likely invite further scrutiny of the show's ratings, which have been on a downward trajectory the past two seasons. After the show's Season 4 premiere in August 2013 set a record for a nonfiction cable series with 11.8 million viewers, "Duck Dynasty's" numbers have been in decline. 

Season 6 earlier this year averaged 3.8 million viewers, a drop of more than 40 percent from Season 5's 6.5 million. Season 5, in turn, was down close to 30 percent from the show's peak in Season 4. (The show's adults 18-49 ratings have fallen by similar levels over the same time.)


The decline in ratings coincided with the controversy over patriarch Phil Robertson's quotes about homosexuality in the January 2014 issue of GQ. A&E briefly suspended Robertson from the show, only to reverse course in the face of protests from conservatives.

It's fair to say that the media uproar may have contributed to the ratings dip -- but that's hardly the whole story behind the ratings drop. Consider these other reasons:

1. Time 
Docuseries like "Duck Dynasty" tend to have a limited shelf life. No matter how likable (or love-to-hateable) the people on screen are, the reality-TV seams start to show after a while. Wednesday's episode will be the show's 72nd, which is a relatively long run in the docuseries game.


2. A&E's scheduling. 
It's hard to blame the channel for wanting to capitalize on the Robertson family's popularity, but that has also meant audiences have scarcely had any time to miss "Duck Dynasty" while it's off the air. The six previous seasons have aired over less than a three-year period; the longest gap between seasons has been about 4 1/2 months. That kind of aggressive scheduling could create fatigue even in the most ardent of fans.

3. Gravity
With a very rare handful of exceptions, just about every successful show -- from "American Idol" to "Modern Family" -- goes through this kind of ratings cycle. That "Duck Dynasty" was able to hit the heights it did was pretty remarkable; its subsequent drop may have been steeper, but the fact that it came down to earth again is just business as usual.

The "Duck Dynasty" premiere airs at 9 p.m. ET/PT Wednesday on A&E.
Photo/Video credit: A&E