In Depth

Fox Wins 5th Straight Season in Key 18-49 Demo

CBS Continues to Be Most-Watched Broadcast Network

Fox and CBS did it again.

For the 2008-09 TV season, Fox has officially claimed its fifth consecutive ratings win among adults 18-49, while CBS wrapped up the season as the most-watched broadcast network for the sixth time in the last seven years.

It was a season in which comparisons were made difficult by the preceding year’s Writers Guild of America strike, but the leading networks’ best shows again proved their appeal.

With “American Idol” to bolster the second half of the season, Fox finished with a 3.6/8 among adults 18-49. The network edged out No. 2 CBS (3.1/8) even though Fox posted a 16% decline year-over-year. While CBS ranked second among the networks, it was the only one of the Big Four networks to post increases in the 18-49 demographic (+3%).

Both ABC (2.9/8) and NBC (2.8/7) trailed close behind, with the former down 3% and the latter flat with last year.

Among total viewers, CBS finished first with 11.76 million for the season, up 11% over last season. Again, CBS was the only network to post yearly gains. Fox finished second with 9.8 million viewers, down 13% from last year, while ABC (8.95 million) and NBC (7.84) rounded out the pack, both posting 3% decreases from last year.

Versions of Fox’s “Idol” finished the season as the top two shows. Wednesday night editions ranked at the top in both the demo and total viewers (9.8/24, 26.69 million), while Tuesday episodes tied for first in the demo and placed second in total viewers (9.8/25, 26.12 million).

ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” (5.7/13, 15.66 million) and “Grey’s Anatomy” (5.6/13, 14.52 million) gave the network a strong boost, coming in as the top two scripted shows among adults 18-49 and placing fourth and fifth, respectively, among all programs.

CBS led the pack of scripted shows in total viewers, with “CSI” (5.2/12, 19.03 million), “NCIS” (3.8/10, 17.84 million) and freshman series “The Mentalist” (3.9/9, 17.45 million) placing fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. The network also had the top performing comedy, “Two and a Half Men” (5.1/12, 14.98 million), which placed eighth in the demo and 10th among total viewers.

NBC’s Sunday Night Football coverage (6.2/15, 16.27 million) broke into the top 10 in both categories as well, ranking third in the demo and eighth among total viewers.

Among adults 18-49, changes in ratings year-over-year continue to reflect the fallout of the WGA strike and changing viewing habits.

NBC’s “Heroes” posted a 29% decrease in the demo year-over-year, going from a 6.2 rating to a 4.4. The series has become the poster child for the strike’s effect, since it suffered from a truncated season and went nine months between new episodes.

The lack of new scripted content last year gave reality programs a boost as well, and accounts for a decrease in ratings among unscripted shows this year. While Fox’s “Idol” remained the top show of the season, it did so while taking a 13% dip for Tuesday night telecasts and an 8% slip for Wednesdays. ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” did well last year with a 4.6 average rating in the demo, but this year dropped 26% to average a 3.4.

Top comedies experienced a boost once scripted programming got back into a regular schedule. NBC’s top scripted show, “The Office,” climbed 14% year-over-year (4.2 to 4.8), though it benefited from some major post-Super Bowl exposure. CBS’ “Two and a Half Men” bumped up 6% for the season (4.8 to 5.1) and broke the top 10 with all the other shuffles among broadcast series.

The top 10 regular shows for the 2008-09 series played out as follows:

Top 10 Programs Based on Average A18-49 Rating (2008-09)
Rank
Program
Network
Rating
Share
1
American Idol (Wednesday)
Fox
9.8
24
1
American Idol (Tuesday)
Fox
9.8
25
3
NBC Sunday Night Football
NBC
6.2
15
4
Desperate Housewives
ABC
5.7
13
5
Grey’s Anatomy
ABC
5.6
13
6
House
Fox
5.4
14
7
CSI
CBS
5.2
12
8
Two and a Half Men
CBS
5.1
12
9
Lost
ABC
5.0
12
10
Dancing With the Stars
ABC
4.9
12

 

Top 10 Programs Based on Total Viewers P2+ (2008-09)
Rank
Program
Network
Total Viewers (millions)
1
American Idol (Wednesday)
Fox
26.69
2
American Idol (Tuesday)
Fox
26.12
3
Dancing With the Stars
ABC
20.32
4
CSI
CBS
19.03
5
NCIS
CBS
17.84
6
The Mentalist
CBS
17.45
7
Dancing With the Stars (Results)
ABC
16.76
8
NBC Sunday Night Football
NBC
16.27
9
Desperate Housewives
ABC
15.66
10
Two and a Half Men
CBS
14.98

 

Source: Nielsen Media Research