November 10, 2011

The Sked: Season to Date NIGHT by NIGHT

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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>Midway through November is a good time to take a broad look at the television season.  Looking at the entire prime time schedule, FOX is off to a very promising start in first place with a 3.1 Adult 18-49 rating, and even more impressively up 19% versus the same period last year.  CBS is exactly even with last year, just under a 3.0 rating.  Of course the weak are getting weaker, with both ABC and NBC down in the high single digits. 

    Season to Date Prime Time
    Adult 18-49 Ratings
    Sep 19-Nov 9, 2011
    versus last year

          2011   2010   % chg 
    FOX   3.20   2.69   +19%
    CBS   2.96   2.95   + 0%
    ABC   2.42   2.59   – 7%
    NBC   2.28   2.52   – 9%

However, television is fought on a night by night basis, so let’s take a look at each night of the week to see the challenges and opportunities facing each broadcast network.

FOX has the most balanced schedule of any network.  It dominates Thursday, wins Tuesday and Friday and is contention on every other night of the week.  Even more impressive, FOX is up on every single night of the week over last year except Saturday (the least important night of the week).  Even if we exclude Game 6 of the World Series from Thursday’s numbers, the nightly average is still a strong #1 (a 3.9 rating instead of a 4.4) and the growth rate is still a very strong 37% (instead of 54%).  If we exclude Game 7 of the World Series from the Friday averages, the night averages a mediocre 1.4 rating, but the growth rate is still a very significant 72% (instead of 226% with Game 7 factored in).  Kitchen Nightmares and Fringe remains a vast improvement over House repeats and Good Guys.    

          Season to Date Adult 18-49 Rating by Night
               September 19-November 9, 2011
          MON   TUE   WED   THU   FRI   SAT   SUN
    FOX   3.0   3.5   3.4   4.4   2.6   1.7   3.6
    CBS   4.3   3.4   3.2   3.2   1.5   2.1   2.8
    ABC   3.0   2.4   3.6   2.6   1.2   1.6   2.3 
    NBC   1.4   2.1   1.6   1.9   1.3   0.7   6.6
          Percent Change versus Last Year by Night
          MON   TUE   WED   THU   FRI   SAT   SUN
    FOX   + 6   +10   +12   +54   +226  -20   + 5
    CBS   +22   + 5   + 1   – 5   – 8   +52   -28
    ABC   -20   – 9   +26   -12   – 5   -12   -13
    NBC   -29   -12   -23   -19   +10   -22   + 4

CBS is also well positioned throughout the week.  Like FOX, it dominates one night (in its case Monday) and is in contention most everywhere — although the one blemish is Sunday, where it has fallen below a 3 rating and more disturbingly is down a stunning 28% from last year.  The one night that is a little misleading is Saturday, which is skewed by the LSU-Alabama football game on November 5.  If we remove that mini-national championship, the CBS Saturday average falls to a 1.2 (from a 2.1) and more important the growth rate turns negative to -10% (from +52% with the game included).  CBS is trending quite well on Monday (up 22%) and up moderately on Tuesday (up 5%), but the concern for the future arises mid-week and throughout the weekend.  Wednesday is up only 1%, Thursday is down 5%, and Sunday will need a complete overhaul next season (again down 28%) to get CBS back in the game on a night it has traditionally done quite well with.

ABC really has good news on one night: Wednesday.  It wins the night (though not quite in the convincing fashion CBS wins Monday or FOX wins Thursday) and it has amazing momentum (up 26% on Wednesday versus last year due to continued growth from The Middle, a complete makeover at 8:30 with Suburgatory,  the enduring appeal and dominance of Modern Family, and a complete turnaround at 10 pm with Revenge nearly tripling the audience of The Whole Truth). But the midweek success story is marred by the declines on every other night.  Too many dramas are aging too rapidly simultaneously.  Once Upon a Time is off to a terrific start, but ABC needs to create two or three more within the next midseason and fall to replace the older dramas.
We know NBC is dependent on Sunday Night Football in the fall, but the extent of its reliance is shocking in the nightly ratings table.  Only one other night cracks a 2 rating (Tuesday’s 2.1 rating), with most other nights closer to a 1.5 than a 2.0 rating.   Even worse, the tiny numbers are getting tinier, with five of seven nights down significantly (an average 21% decline).  Friday is the lone up night with entertainment programming, thanks mostly to the successful launch of Grimm and solid performances by two-hour Dateline episodes early in the season.

It is interesting to note how many networks are up on various nights.  When we look at the four-network total rating for Monday-Sunday, the major broadcast networks total a 10.9 rating, up 1% versus the same period last year.   Some of this is due to some extraordinary sports ratings, but even if we exclude FOX’s coverage of World Series Game 6 and 7 and CBS’s coverage of LSU-Alabama, the total is still a 10.6, down only 2% versus last year.  Given the past, seemingly inexorable decline of broadcast ratings, it is pretty amazing that the four networks are collectively either down a mere 2% or actually up 1%.  When we look at the broadcast network totals by night, network viewing is up significantly on Wednesdays (mostly because of The X Factor and ABC’s entire line-up) and Fridays (because FOX decided to get back in the game on the night and because of NBC’s lone success there).  Even Thursday is showing on overall uptick (again, mostly because of The X Factor).   The only night in serious free-fall is Saturday, although Sunday should be watched carefully after football leaves the schedule in the winter.  For an assumed dying industry, there are some encouraging signs of life, particularly because of FOX.      

      Season to Date Adult 18-49 Rating 4-Network Total
               September 19-November 9, 2011
            Excluding WS Game 6 & 7 and LSU-ALA
          MON   TUE   WED   THU   FRI   SAT   SUN
    4-NET 11.8  11.3  11.8  11.6  5.4   5.2   15.3
    % CHG – 3%  + 0%  + 6%  + 1%  +10%  -16%  – 6%

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."