February 15, 2012

The Sked: Upscale Ratings for Smash and What It Means for NBC

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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>As we have discussed, the jury is still out on Smash.  We don’t know where its ratings will settle, as it gives up over half of its massive lead in from The Voice, it was down sharply in its second week versus the premiere, and it declines each half hour it is on (often declining each minute).  But the show represents an attempt by NBC to air programs that resonate with critics, opinion leaders and upscale viewers.  Overall ratings are always important, but in the case of NBC’s Rebuild, the network will scrutinize Nielsen ratings with upscale viewers very closely.  Advertisers pay a premium to reach young, upscale viewers (most often measured by Adults 18-49 living in homes with a combined income over $100,000 per year).  These viewers are hard to reach but have higher disposable income, a perfect target for Madison Avenue.

In terms of an upscale audience, Smash is hitting the bullseye so far.  The show’s average 3.3 rating with Adults 18-49 overall (for the first two telecasts) balloons to a 4.5 rating when we look at Adults 18-49 in $100K+ homes.  The $100K+ Index (where 100=average and anything above 100 is upscale) is a very good 135.  Just look at its competition in the time period.  Hawaii Five-0 has a downscale index of 83, moving from a close second place in the hour (looking at 18-49 only) to third place in the hour (looking at upscale young adults). 

              Upscale Ratings: Monday 10 pm

                            Adult     $100K+              Original
                            18-49     18-49      Index    Episode
                            Rating    Rating               Count
     Smash           3.3     4.5     135     (2)
     Hawaii Five-0   3.0     2.5      83     (16)
     Castle          2.4     2.7     112     (15)

Source: Nielsen People Meter, 9.19.2011-2.13.2012, Original episodes only 

Of course, Smash is still finding its true audience level.  But even if we assume it is averaging a 2.2 rating with Adults 18-49 in several weeks, it would still be pulling over a 3.0 upscale young adult number (enough to win the time period comfortably with that group and providing advertisers an efficient way to reach prime prospects).  

In the coming days, we will look at the upscale ratings across the prime time broadcast landscape (also known as NAD ratings, short for National Audience Demographics) for the season so far in more detail.  For now, a few tidbits.  The most upscale-skewing show on TV?  ABC’s Modern Family with a robust 158 index (an 8.8 upscale-young adult rating versus a 5.6 rating with all Adults 18-49).   The most downscale?  Cops on FOX with a meager 52 index (a 0.6 rating with upscale-young adults versus a 1.2 rating with all Adults 18-49).  These two programs at the extremes represent the strong advertiser preference for situation comedy (the genre repeats well, it tends to skew young and in many cases upscale, and it rarely presents controversial content that advertisers eschew).  In contrast, many reality shows are littered with questionable content and do not attract upscale viewers.  

Which networks are the most upscale?  Clearly, ABC and NBC, although NBC’s upscale rating is propped up by Sunday Night Football (121 index and a mammoth 9.6 rating with upscale-young adults versus an 8.0 rating with all Adults 18-49).  Without the NFL, NBC maintains an upscale skew (a high index), but its absolute ratings levels are abysmal for the entertainment portion of its regular schedule.  The more downscale networks on average are CBS and The CW, with FOX closer to 100.

       Upscale Ratings: Prime Time Average
   Season to Date — Ranked by Upscale Rating

                            Adult     $100K+           
                            18-49     18-49      Index 
                            Rating    Rating           
     NBC with NFL    2.8     3.2     116    
     FOX             2.9     2.8      96
     ABC             2.4     2.7     113
     CBS             2.9     2.6      91
     NBC w/o NFL     1.8     2.1     112   

     CW              0.8     0.6      83

Source: Nielsen People Meter, 9.19.2011-2.13.2012, Regularly scheduled programs, Original episodes only 

Look for more analysis of the upscale numbers in the next few days as we look at each network and each night of the week.


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."