In Depth

CBS Gains in Sweeps Period; Fox Remains on Top

For the first two weeks of the May sweeps, CBS is the only broadcast television network posting year-over-year gains among total viewers. The network is also the only one to avoid any losses among adults 18-49, the demographic still led by Fox.

Among total viewers, CBS averaged 10.8 million viewers, an 8% increase from last year, while remaining flat among adults 18-49 (2.6 rating/8 share).

An increase for the network, or any network for that matter, is a change of pace over last year, when the effects of the Writers Guild of America strike caused ratings havoc across the broadcast networks. For sweeps in May 2008, CBS posted a 10% loss among adults 18-49 and a 5% dip in total viewers compared with the year before.

The sweeps period, which is eroding in importance as the industry adopts new methods of placing value on the audiences it pulls in, has been used to help set advertising rates for local stations.

Last week, CBS reported $55.3 million in losses for the first quarter of the year, due mostly to slumping ad sales. Although higher ratings didn’t translate into economic success in the first quarter, CEO Leslie Moonves said he is optimistic that the worst of the recession is past.

Fox remains the ratings leader among the broadcast networks in adults 18-49, averaging a 3.1/9. “American Idol’s” strong performances have given the network wins for six nights out of the first 14 of the sweeps period, which runs from April 23 to May 20.

The network has posted an 11% loss compared with the first two weeks of May sweeps last year, which mirrors similar declines between May sweeps of 2007 and 2008. Fox also has shown larger comparative declines among total viewers (8.7 million, down 7%) than most of the others due to increased competition from more regular programming on the other networks.

NBC was the biggest loser in last year’s May sweeps, posting a 21% decline among adults 18-49 and a 17% drop in total viewers. This year the network has remained flat among adults 18-49 (2.0/6) and has slipped only 2% in total viewers (6.3 million). NBC, however, is the only one of the four major broadcast networks to not win any night of the current sweeps period.

ABC has posted smaller ratings losses across the board than last year. Among adults 18-49 (2.6/7), the network has dipped 10%, compared with a 17% loss the year before. Among total viewers (8.4 million) the network also has dropped 10%, compared with an 11% loss last year.

ABC trailed Fox in number of nights won by only one, staking a claim to both Thursdays and Sundays, as well as last Monday. (As final figures for May 7 were released, ABC claimed its third consecutive Thursday night win.)

(The CW has posted larger losses across the board compared with last year, but comparisons are somewhat skewed for the network since it gave up original programming on Sunday nights.)