April 29, 2014

NIELSENWAR: Weekly/Season Ratings Charts; and How Low Can Bubble Shows Go?


There was little change from last week in the new weekly averages (based on 5 days of final Same Day ratings and 2 days of overnights), as again no network averaged over 1.5 in 18-49s over the course of the week.  ABC held even at 1.49, CBS was up 0.3 to 1.43, FOX had a decent bump of 0.13 to 1.40 (most of its Sunday cartoons had been in reruns the previous week), NBC was even at 1.37, and CW rose 0.03 to 0.54.

We’re taking a bit of a different angle on the season-to-date numbers this week.  Since at this point in the season, week-to-week comparisons are mostly invisible, we’ll compare the current network averages to where they were about 2 months ago, as of the week ending March 2 (as well as last season).

NBC:  2.39 (up 16% from last year due to the Winter Olympics; down 0.3 from the week ending March 2)

FOX:  2.11 (dead even with last year despite the big bump of this year’s Super Bowl; down 0.26 from this season thru March 2)

CBS:  1.89 (down 23% from last year when it had the Super Bowl; down 0.04 from the season as of March 2)

ABC:  1.64 (down 9% from last year; down 0.01 from the week ending March 2)

CW:   0.52 (down 0.07% from last year; down 0.01 from the season thru March 2)

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There’s been some online discussion recently about whether FOX might consider bringing ENLISTED back for a second season.  Enlisted is an innocuous (some would say tepid) sitcom, and its cancellation or renewal won’t change the course of TV comedy in the least.  What’s notable, though, is that the ratings for its two most recent episodes were 0.5 and 0.4.  To be certain, advocates for the show have any number of excuses for those numbers:  Enlisted aired on low-rated Friday nights, never had much of a lead-in, may have been promoted less than other FOX series, etc.

But still:  0.5 and 0.4!  How can this even be a debatable point?  Those are numbers that wouldn’t be considered strong by most cable networks, let alone one of the Big 4 broadcasters.  (Remember:  cablers receive dual income streams from advertisers and their share of subscription fees, while broadcast networks are primarily funded by ads.)

Enlisted probably won’t be returning to the air (beyond its burned-off remaining half-hours), but it raises the question of the ever-more-slippery downward slope of broadcast network ratings.  Its numbers cross a line, but where is that line?  And where will it be 2, 3 or 5 years from now?  Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Mindy Project and Parks & Recreation are coming back, despite ratings that barely hover above 1.0, Revenge and Nashville aren’t much better, Trophy Wife is still a contender, and Friday shows like Hannibal and The Neighbors (both mostly at the 0.8-0.9 level) are in the mix as well.

Broadcast TV has been surviving with some degree of continued health over the past few years because each season, advertisers have raised the CPMs (the rate paid per thousand viewers who watch a show within 3 days of initial airing and do not fast forward through the commercials) by up to 10%, covering the yearly decline in the gross number of viewers (at least the ones who count–additional Live + 7 viewers, or those who skip commercials, are worthless to the networks).  The justification for these increases has been that network TV still offers an unmatched scale of consumer size, giving ads the maximum possible impact, which constitutes more bang and thus allows for more bucks.

That, however, is less and less the case.  Although blockbusters like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones (the latter of which, of course, has no advertising) may draw the most media attention, the real news is a notch lower, where it’s no longer unusual for cable series to draw 1.0 or higher ratings on a nightly basis.  Shows like Vikings, Bates Motel, Duck Dynasty, Sons of Anarchy, The Deadliest Catch and Real Housewives are routinely at or above that level, ever more competitive with typical network programming.  The premium that advertisers have given broadcasters since the beginning of the cable era is becoming harder to justify–especially since cablers can often supply targeted programming that goes directly to a particular demo (think Teen Wolf on MTV, Tosh.0 on Comedy Central, or Devious Maids on Lifetime).

The broadcast networks aren’t going anywhere, for political reasons among others.  But the time may well be on the way when they become loss leaders for their conglomerate owners, who make their real money from their cable networks, and the days of 7-days-a-week, 2-or-3-hours-per-night primetime programming may soon be endangered.  The upcoming Upfronts will be a tense moment in the arc of the TV business, with Enlisted not the only one potentially on the wrong side of a critical invisible ratings line.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."