In Depth

Is Thursday Night Still Working for the Weekend? Ad Age Survey Predicts Sunday Still Has the Most Ad Viewership, but Another Night May Prove to Be the New No. 2

By Brian Steinberg
Advertising Age

Thursday night -- long a ratings smorgasbord and one of the best ways to reach consumers thinking about their weekends -- may be yesterday's news.

A survey of ad buyers' predictions of broadcast shows' commercial ratings this fall suggests Sunday will, as usual, be the night that offers the most viewership for advertisements. This year, however, it will be followed by Wednesday evening, not Thursday as has often been the case.

The survey, conducted annually by Advertising Age, gauges the number of viewers who actually watch commercials during a program instead of changing channels or fast forwarding. Viewers who watch ads live or within three days of airing are included in the ratings, known in the industry as "C3."

To be sure, advertisers still value Thursdays, home to mainstays such as ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" and CBS's "The Mentalist." Fox will air the "results" episode of its much-anticipated "The X Factor" on that evening -- a sign that Thursdays still bear importance. Even the CW, whose programs are among the lowest rated on broadcast TV, gets a decent boost when it comes to such Thursday-night selections as "Vampire Diaries" and "The Secret Circle."

But the power of those programs isn't enough to offset a decline in commercial ratings for the evening, according to the survey. New Thursday programs such as CBS's "Person of Interest" and ABC's "Charlie's Angels" won't deliver C3 ratings above the inhabitants of their time slots last season, "My Generation" and "CSI," buyers in the survey predicted.

Indeed, CBS's decision to move "CSI" to Wednesday is one reason that night will contain more commercial ratings this fall, along with better performances projected for ABC's "Modern Family" and "The Middle." Fox's decision to replace "Lie to Me" with each week's first "The X Factor" episode won't hurt either.

Could the projections prompt major marketers to shift more ad weight to Wednesdays? That remains to be seen. For years, Thursday has been used as a promotional platform for Friday-night movie openings and weekend sales at retail outlets. In many marketers' minds, Thursdays remain the best way to try to influence weekend purchase behavior.

But technology may be changing that. With more people using DVRs and video on demand, programs that air on Wednesday nights could get viewed Thursday or Friday instead. The web, meanwhile, has opened new avenues to consumers starting to lean into their weekends -- such as online advertising that appears during the workday on Fridays.

Thursday's place in TV's stratosphere may be in question, but Sunday's dominance is not in dispute. Filled with NBC's Sunday-night football broadcast as well as Fox's block of popular animated shows, the night has carried the day, so to speak, for the last several years -- both in terms of commercial ratings and as the most expensive night for advertisers, according to Advertising Age research.

Mid-season entries could change the picture for Thursdays. In the spring, Thursday night will feature the "results" show for "American Idol."