March 23, 2012

The Sked: STATE OF THE SEASON Slouching Toward the Finish Line

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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>Earlier this month, we looked at the sorry state of broadcast ratings since January.  Since the start of Daylight Saving Time, the outlook hasn’t gotten any better.  Dividing the season to date into thirds, the latest third is still running 7% behind the same period last year for the four broadcast networks collectively.  The 9.6 combined Adult 18-49 rating for the broadcasters is just barely above the level they were doing in the doldrums of the middle period of the year, which is dominated by the repeat-filled holiday season.

            4-Network (ABC CBS NBC FOX) 
      Prime Time Adult 18-49 Combined Rating

                      2011-12  2010-11  % chg
     Sep 19-Dec  4     10.4     10.4      0%
     Dec  5-Jan 22      9.0      9.4     -4%
     Jan 23-Mar 18      9.6     10.3     -7%

The chart below shows the year-over-year decline in network television viewing for each week of the season to date.  In the first part of the season, there were a few up weeks and a few down weeks but the magnitude of the differences generally were quite small (mostly under 5%).  More recently, however, the weekly changes have settled into a very consistent pattern (down between 5 and 10% each week).

The State of Each Network Since the Super Bowl.  To get an idea of how each network is doing on each night since the Super Bowl and excluding the aberrational Grammys and Oscars nights, we looked at the past six weeks (with mostly regular scheduled programming).  The  underlined ratings in the table below are the nightly winners.  Thanks to singing competition shows, NBC is able to claim one dominant night (Monday with The Voice) and FOX two (Wednesday and Thursday, despite the recent declines in American Idol).  The real battlegrounds next fall will be Tuesday and Sunday, with no network in a dominant position.  (Forget about Friday and Saturday — because of lower TV usage levels, limited advertiser demand, and a dearth of strong shows, those nights will always be an absolute bottom priority).  CBS continues to show incredible consistency.  Although the only nights they win are the more irrelevant Friday and Saturday, they have no black hole nights — they are in the running across the board.  At the other extreme, NBC has one fantastic success story night and six black holes, keeping them in a very solid fourth place across the week. 

                 Nightly Broadcast Network Ratings
                Past Six Weeks (Feb 6-Mar 18, 2012)
                   Adult 18-49 Prime Time Rating

              Week  MON  TUE  WED  THU  FRI  SAT  SUN

       FOX    2.63  2.4  2.9  5.3  4.1  1.2  1.0  1.8
       CBS    2.53  2.9  2.6  2.7  2.9  1.8  1.1  2.0*
       ABC    2.12  2.5  1.7  2.5  2.0  1.5  1.0  2.2**
       NBC    1.86  4.9  1.9  1.2  1.7  1.2  0.6  1.6

       Note: *-excluding Grammy night; **-excluding Oscars night

How dire are things at FOX?  That seems like an odd question for a network with three nightly victories and a first-place position across the entire week at this point of the season.  Look at the year-to-year trends for FOX below: down 25% overall and down very high double-digits on every single night of the week.  The former viewers of American Idol continue to land to some extent at The Voice on NBC but certainly on no other night at the Peacock.  The challenge for the broadcast networks will be to recapture some of these recent network defectors before their cable or online habits become too ingrained.  

             Nightly Trend (This Year vs Last Year)
              Past Six Weeks (Feb 6-Mar 18, 2012)
            % Change Adult 18-49 Prime Time Rating

              Week   MON  TUE  WED  THU  FRI  SAT  SUN

       FOX    -25%  -18% -22% -27% -31% -14% -45% -16%
       CBS    + 3%   +1%  -7%  -6%  +9% +16%  +3% -11%
       ABC    + 1%  -23%  +8% +17%  -4% +21%  +4%  +8%
       NBC    +20% +213% -21% -12%  -1% -15% -21%  +2%


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."