February 26, 2013

The Sked: The Value of Sports Programming and Updated Full Season Forecasts

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Written by: Mitch Metcalf
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What does football mean to the broadcast networks?  For NBC and CBS, NFL coverage (along with other sports, mostly an occasional college football game) accounts for about 20-30% of the entire primetime rating for the network.

For CBS, its 2.63 adult 18-49 rating for the season to date falls all the way down to a 2.12 when sports programming is excluded.  The vast majority of this difference is accounted for by the removal of one night, Super Bowl Sunday.  Through December, CBS averaged a 2.18 for all programs, and that average declined to a 2.08 when sports (mostly 30-45 minutes every other Sunday when the late afternoon NFL game ran into primetime) is excluded.  So in rough terms, the regular season NFL runover on Sundays account for one-tenth of a rating point and the Super Bowl is worth about four-tenths.  The good news for CBS, however, is that it still leads the other networks when sports is excluded and only entertainment programming is counted.

Primetime 18-49 Rating Season to Date
All Programs No Sports
1. CBS 2.63 1. CBS 2.12
2. NBC 2.29 2. FOX 1.92
3. FOX 2.18 3. ABC 1.90
4. ABC 1.90 4. NBC 1.73
Nielsen Media, 22-week season average: Sep 24, 2012-Feb 24, 2013

For NBC, the exclusion of sports reveals an utterly barren schedule.  Sports on NBC (mostly Sunday Night Football), accounts for about six-tenths of a rating point in its season average (because of the sheer number of hours — 15 weeks in the season multiplied by about 3 hours per week).  When we look only at entertainment programs, NBC falls from second place to a weak fourth place.  And when The Voice is not on the air, NBC’s entertainment schedule plummets from about a 1.9 to a 1.2 rating.  Take two programs away and the rating is about cut in half from a 2.3 to the disastrous 1.2 rating of January, February and most of March.

Far less reliant on sports, FOX loses about three-tenths of rating point in its season average when sports is excluded (about an hour every other Sunday in the fall and MLB postseason coverage in October): from a 2.18 for all program to 1.92 for entertainment programs (good enough for second place).

ABC (whose sports coverage to this point of the season is mainly NCAA football on Saturdays in the fall) averages the same 1.90 for all programs or entertainment-only.

THE REST OF THE SEASON.  Sports play a minimal impact on network ratings between now and the end of the broadcast season in May.  The core entertainment schedules will make the difference for the final stretch of the season.

CBS should ride its current 2.63 rating down to a 2.38 at the end of May, enough to win the season.  (This assumes a weekly 1.9 rating in repeat-heavy March and April, followed by a 2.1 in May.)

FOX’s current 2.18 season-to-date average should end up at a very similar 2.16 in May (with about a 2.15 each week the rest of the season, propped up by American Idol).  Around March 15, FOX should move into a tie with NBC, which will then drift even more into third place each week.

NBC’s 2.29 should turn into a 2.12 by the end of March (with four more weeks of a 1.2 weekly rating).  When The Voice returns, NBC should rebound to around a 1.9 each week, slowing its decline rate and bringing its full season average to a 2.07.

ABC will remain in fourth place: from a 1.90 season to date average now to a 1.87 at the end of May (assuming it averages a 1.85 from now until the end).

About the Author

Mitch Metcalf
MITCH METCALF has been tracking every US film release of over 500 screens (over 2300 movies and counting) since the storied weekend of May 20, 1994, when Maverick and Beverly Hills Cop 3 inspired countless aficionados to devote their lives to the art of cinema. Prior to that, he studied Politics and Economics at Princeton in order to prepare for his dream of working in television. He has been Head of West Coast Research at ABC, then moved to NBC in 2000 and became Head of Scheduling for 11 years.