February 18, 2012

The Sked: Upscale Ratings — CBS Profile

>In the last post on upscale ratings, we looked at ABC, which has a high number of series that skew substantially toward upper-income viewers but not enough programs with a sizable total audience.  Today, we turn our attention to CBS, which has taken a very different pathway to success: many shows with a large audience although very few series attract upper-income viewers.  While the CBS prime time schedule averages a 2.9 rating with Adults 18-49 this season to date (far superior to ABC’s 2.4), CBS falls to a 2.6 rating with Adults 18-49 in $100K+ homes (trailing ABC’s 2.7).  The CBS $100K+ index of 91 (100=average and anything under 100 indicates a downscale skew) is the lowest of the four major broadcast networks, and only quasi-network The CW has a lower index (83).   

In the chart below, we have added each CBS regular series (in red) to one of nine categories (based on the combination of high, middle or low rating and upscale, midscale or downscale skew).  Notice how few CBS shows are in the extreme right column (the upscale categories) or the bottom row (the low rating categories).  The CBS line-up is very heavily concentrated in the upper-left area of the chart (high- and middle-rated shows in the downscale and midscale areas). 

Monday Comedies.  The most upscale shows on CBS are the Monday 8-10 pm and Thursday 8:00 pm comedies: How I Met Your Mother (111), Big Bang Theory (105), 2 Broke Girls (100), Two and a Half Men (97) and Mike & Molly (93).  We are categorizing How I Met Your Mother as an upscale show, but keep in mind its index is just over the dividing line and actually is fairly close to the other flagship CBS multi-camera sitcoms.  Although none of these shows has an exceptionally high index (denying the CBS sales department an upscale pricing premium), the ratings are high enough that no one at CBS is going to go hungry anytime soon.  Additionally, the granddaddy of reality shows, Survivor, has an index similar to the CBS comedy hits (99), unspectacular but relatively high for CBS and decent for the reality genre as a whole.

Crime Dramas.  In contrast, crime and detective dramas (the other staple of the CBS schedule) are not exactly magnets for upper-income viewers.  The best index values for this CBS specialty are found with freshman series Person of Interest (89), the veteran NCIS (85) and its spinoff NCIS: Los Angeles (77).  Hawaii Five-0 (83) also fits perfectly in this group and gives up any upscale traction (albeit limited) on CBS Monday earlier in the evening with the comedies.  But others such as Criminal Minds (67), Unforgettable (65), the original CSI (62) and brand extensions CSI: Miami (68) and CSI: New York (65) are positively downscale.  Again, the overall ratings are high enough that the revenue is there — it’s just that the network is leaving money on the advertising negotiating table by repelling viewers with more disposable income.

CBS Sunday.  One upscale oasis on the CBS schedule is Sunday night, with the venerable 60 Minutes boasting a 132 index (much better than the Dateline or 20/20 indices, which are around 100).  Amazing Race, perennial favorite of the TV Academy at Emmy time, with a 134 index also attracts high income viewers (who not surprisingly are also much more likely to have a passport and travel internationally, as lifestyle and psychographic studies consistently show).  Finally, The Good Wife at 9 pm sports a 120 index, clearly the most upscale drama on CBS.  However, the audience size on CBS Sunday is anything but dominant — so any upscale premium is added to a middling price base.

Certainly, CBS chief Leslie Moonves would say something like, “CBS has a game plan that works very well for us.  As the best broadcaster in the business, CBS attracts more viewers than any other network [i.e., change the subject from 18-49 ratings to 2+ because CBS has huge advantages in the 50+ and 65+ age groups], and we are paid very handsomely by Madison Avenue for our consistent audience delivery.  Let the other networks crow about their ratings with tiny demographic groups like 35-49 year-old professors in New York City.  At CBS, we look at the total score on the scoreboard, and that tally tells us the future is very bright at CBS.”  In fact, CBS is in very good overall shape, but imagine their strength if their comedies were more like 120 or 125 index values and if the crime dramas could move into the 100-110 range.  They would be unstoppable.



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."