November 18, 2013

NIELSENWAR: What Is CW Doing Right?


NOTE:  Season-To-Date and Weekly Network Ratings Charts Are Below

Something remarkable happened last Thursday night:  with a 1.3 rating, CW’s THE VAMPIRE DIARIES outrated the entire NBC line-up.  The reason that’s notable isn’t just because of the seemingly bottomless misery of the Peacock on Thursdays, but because Vampire Diaries, in its 4th season, is rating even with its numbers from last year.

Nor is it alone.  Last week’s ARROW had a 1.2 rating, the same score that the series had in the same week last year.  On Tuesday, SUPERNATURAL, at 1.1, was up from last year’s 1.0 in the parallel week (when it aired on Wednesday night).  And the network has also added THE ORIGINALS to its Tuesday slate of hits, matching Supernatural‘s 1.1.  Overall, as the chart at the bottom of this piece indicates, CW is the only network up from last season.

Now, let’s not get too excited about CW’s magic touch.  The network only programs 2 hours per night, 5 nights per week, and a pair of those nights–Monday and Friday–are utter disaster areas, with ratings for HART OF DIXIE, BEAUTY & THE BEAST and THE CARRIE DIARIES that would get every one of those shows canceled on any major cable network.  Also, the launches of THE TOMORROW PEOPLE and REIGN have been just minimally successful despite big lead-ins, even though both have received back orders.  The numbers that make a “hit” on CW would be considered a failure by the other broadcasters–although that line is getting closer.  The CW economics in general only work because of its massive licensing deal with Netflix, which expires in 2 more years.

Still, the continued success of CW’s hits is impressive.  In comparison, last Wednesday night Survivor and Criminal Minds were both down 0.2 from last year, Nashville was down 0.3, and CSI dropped half a point, while on Tuesday, NCIS LA fell 0.4 and even mighty NCIS itself was down 0.2.  The collapse of The X Factor has been widely reported, down more than a point from last November.   On Thursdays, while Vampire Diaries h as been holding strong, Grey’s Anatomy and Elementary were both down 0.7 last week, and Glee fell half a point.  In the current world of network television, holding even is a big win.  Even more striking, CW is the youngest and most digitally integrated of the broadcast networks, with a reported 40% of its total viewership watching its season premieres via online or DVR rather than live.  At the same time that the other networks are blaming new platforms for their ratings declines, CW’s hits are thriving despite the large numbers of its fans using exactly the same platforms.

How is this happening?  The obvious answer is that CW is providing compelling programming that’s keeping its fans loyal.  It also helps that all of CW’s shows are serialized, so viewers who want to be up to date need to see every episode.  CW has a strong social media presence, and unlike the audiences at the other networks (tweet live with the cast of NCIS?  Probably not), those media actually mean something to the viewers of its shows.

Whatever the answer is, the other networks should be paying attention, because by merely holding steady, CW’s hits are getting increasingly close to the numbers for the Big 4 as they decline.


Week by Week Prime time Averages
2013 Season — Last Four Weeks
Adult 18-49 Rating (Live+Same Day)
Season to Date Averages
Weeks 1-8
Prime time Adult 18-49 Rating (Live+Same Day)
           2013……..2012…..% chg
CBS….. 2.17……..2.36……-8%
FOX…..2.15……..2.18…… -2%
ABC…..1.91……..2.15…… -11%
5-Net….9.58…. 10.07…… -5%

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."