November 25, 2013

NIELSENWAR: Welcome To The Break


NOTESeason To Date and Weekly Network Ratings Charts Are Below

Tonight is the last Monday of November sweeps, and with some variation (most notably because of baseball on FOX), most network series have been airing new episodes every week since the season began in late September–as many as 10 of the 22 episodes covered by a standard network order.  That leaves about 12 episodes left to cover the next 6 months, roughly from Thanksgiving through Memorial Day.  It’s going to spread the networks’ most important resources very thin, even though, in a sense, the networks catch a break this season, because NBC has the Winter Olympics and some networks will avoid competing with it directly, freeing up some episodes that would normally have been stacked into February because of sweeps.  Still, it’s a lot of time with not that much product on the shelves.

In the days of traditional network TV, of course, this gap was dealt with by reruns, which cost the networks next to nothing (just some Guild residuals) and would reliably get a lower, but still decent rating.  But that era is over; except for The Big Bang Theory and, to a lesser extent, a few procedurals, viewers with hundreds of channels to choose from (not to mention online and DVR viewing, not to mention things to do that aren’t television at all) aren’t going to waste their time with elderly episodes, especially for series with serialized elements.  In addition, the constant on-again, off-again scheduling pattern meant that viewers lost track of (and then lost interest in) just when new episodes were airing.  Increasingly, broadcast networks are instead embracing the cable model, in which series are aired for sustained, virtually uninterrupted mini-season bursts, and alternative programming takes up the space in between.  The “midseason finale” has become a thing, with Revolution having already made its fall exit, and most dramas planning the same over the next 2-3 weeks.

Holiday and stunt programming (like NBC’s The Sing-Off) will take up much of December, and midseason shows will begin to appear in January, including ABC’s Killer Women, FOX’s Rake and The Following, NBC Chicago PD and CBS’s Intelligence.  The risk, of course, is that the absence of existing shows won’t make viewers’ hearts grow fonder.  Last year, Revolution left the air at the end of November with a 2.9 rating, but while it returned in March with a 2.7, the following week it dropped to 2.3 and never recovered.  Will The Blacklist hold up better?  Hiatuses give viewers a chance to realize that they haven’t been all that crazy about shows they’ve been watching on autopilot, and while Scandal is almost guaranteed to depart with an insane Shonda Rhimes cliffhanger that will bring its fans back, can the same be said of Chicago Fire or The Mindy Project or Revenge or Elementary?  Even small declines for those borderline shows could be fatal.

Nevertheless, there’s not much else the networks can do; even if they could afford to order 35 episodes per year, no show could actually produce them.  We’re already starting to see more flexibility in series orders (there are hardly any cable series, after all, that run 22 episodes in a season), which are financially useful but have a downside, furthering the constantly eroding sense of broadcast networks being the place where the largest masses of eyeballs can be counted on, an important part of the network sales pitch to advertisers.

As noted in the chart below, all of the 4 major networks are already down from last season (and NBC is certain to plummet once football ends in a few weeks).  The bad news is that this may have been the good news.


Week by Week Prime time Averages

2013 Season — Last Four Weeks

Adult 18-49 Rating (Live+Same Day)










Season to Date Averages

Weeks 1-9

Prime time Adult 18-49 Rating (Live+Same Day)

           2013……..2012…..% chg



CBS….. 2.14……..2.30……-7%

FOX…..2.12……..2.18…… -3%

ABC…..1.96……..2.15…… -9%


5-Net….9.55…. 10.02…… -5%

Note:       2013: 9.23-11.21.2013 official nationals, 11.22-11.23.2013 fast nationals, 11.24.2013 adjusted fast nationals

                 2012: 9.24-11.25.2012 official nationals


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."