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Reality brings flood of young demos

Mar 5, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Perhaps not seen in any other sweeps period in history, a quartet of reality-based TV series all proved to be young-adult-demographic rating engines for their broadcast networks in the just-completed February sweeps.
And as crucial as CBS’s “Survivor: The Australian Outback” was to beating NBC’s “Friends” in adults 18 to 49 in the much-ballyhooed 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. (ET) Thursday battle during sweeps, it was critical to the Eye Network breaking its earlier season stall in the young-adult
demos and led to wins in households and total viewers coming out of the sweeps.
Yet it was also The WB’s run of “rockumentary” “Popstars” that helped the Frog Network post the largest adults 18 to 49 and adults 18 to 34 increases of the six broadcast networks. Fox’s sweeps finale of “Temptation Island” helped the network win in adults 18 to 34 and push it within two-tenths of a point of NBC in the adults 18 to 49 race for the sweeps.
“This is one of the most talked-about sweeps I can remember, with the starts of the `Survivor’/’Friends’ battle, the XFL, `Temptation Island’ and `The Mole,”’ noted Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group. “But it is also a fact that Fox added more scripted series hits, like `Boston Public,’ `Dark Angel’ and `Grounded for Life,’ than any other network, and that played a major factor in our young-demo gains.”
However, some network competitors would still suggest that “Temptation Island’s” ability to put Fox in the win column for Wednesdays in the key adult demos also may have been the largest contributor to Fox’s 8 percent increase year to year in adults 18 to 49. Whatever the case, Fox’s 5.2 rating/13 share average in the demo pulled to within 4 percent of NBC’s top-ranked 5.4/14 average (a 4 percent decrease from the February 2000 sweeps for the Peacock), according to Nielsen Media Research national data.
Even more remarkable is “Temptation Island’s” 11.5/27 average in the adults 18 to 34 demo (for three sweeps airings; one week pre-empted by a Barbra Streisand concert), ranking only second behind NBC’s “ER” (12.8/35) and ahead of CBS’s “Survivor II” (11.2/29) for the sweeps. “Temptation” also played a significant role in improving Fox’s overall Wednesday averages by 49 percent in adults 18 to 34 (7.0/19) and 82 percent in adults 18 to 49 (5.8/14).
In the overall sweeps race in adults 18 to 34, Fox moved up 6 percent year to year to a top-ranked 5.5/15 average, holding a 15 percent advantage over NBC’s 4.8/14 score.
Late last week, Fox confirmed it was renewing an order for “Temptation Island II” but Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman hinted that it would likely get a late fall or winter 2001 debut to similarly “take advantage of its tropical appeal” in large, cold-weather markets.
Although on a somewhat smaller, targeted demo scale, The WB’s Friday run of “Popstars” gave CEO Jamie Kellner a lot to crow about. For the sweeps, “Popstars”’ 4.7/20 in female teens 12 to 17 marked a 138 percent increase over year-ago sweeps time period levels. Additionally, the series was up 67 percent in the target women 12 to 34 demo (3.0/10).
On an overall basis in prime time, The WB boasted an 18 percent increase in the adults 18 to 34 demo (2.0/5) and 13 percent in adults 18 to 49 (1.7/4) for the sweeps period.
The aging of “Millionaire’s” audience circulation has played a hand in ABC’s experiencing across-the-board erosion in the key young-adult demos, averaging almost 30 percent losses from the year-ago period when the game was a demo phenomenon.
However, “The Mole” offered a much-needed ray of hope for ABC, delivering a top-ranked 6.0/16 in adults 18 to 49 for its final 8 p.m. airing Feb. 28 and drawing a personal-best 15.4 million viewers. The strong closing allowed ABC to eke out a third-place tie with CBS in adults 18 to 49 (both at 4.4/11) for the sweeps, but the Alphabet network was still down 27 percent from the year-ago period.
On a broader basis, CBS’s insertion of “Survivor” on Thursday revived a once-moribund night for the network and has seemingly helped elevate its standing throughout the younger demographics. The “Survivor” halo effect helped to boost “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” in its 9 p.m. Thursday lead-out slot, and improved the evening by 225 percent in adults 18 to 49 and 70 percent in households for the sweeps as it beat NBC’s “Friends” in the 18 to 49 demo and finished second in other young demos.
What it translated to was helping CBS’s entire prime-time lineup increase 10 percent in adults 18 to 34 (4.4/11), 17 percent in adults 18 to 34 and gave it wins in household (9.3/15) and total viewers (13.6 million). CBS improved its household position by 2 percent and total viewers by 3 percent over the year-ago sweeps.
“It’s the first time anyone has ever successfully challenged the dominance of NBC’s Must-See Thursday lineup,” said CBS Television Network President Leslie Moonves. “Thursday used to be my least favorite night, and now it is my favorite night.”
Minus any alternative programming stunts and facing the “Survivor” challenge, recently installed NBC Entertainment President Jeffrey Zucker said the network rose to CBS’s Thursday’s reality onslaught. Specifically, he said the Peacock Network’s Must-See Thursday lineup came in with a 10.3 rating average among adults 18 to 49 compared with a 10.4 rating in the year-ago sweeps.
The addition of “Ed” to NBC’s Wednesday dramas “The West Wing” and “Law & Order” and “Providence” and “Law & Order: SVU” holding up similar demo wins on Friday helped maintain the Peacock Network’s strength.
Nevertheless, the chinks were apparent in NBC’s armor, with its Saturday through Monday lineups appearing somewhat vulnerable. In particular, since the debut of the XFL on Feb. 3, NBC’s Saturday prime time had dipped by more than 70 percent in households and adults 18 to 49 over the span.
Not surprisingly, the Thursday and Wednesday network sweeps stunting and its XFL Sunday broadcasts, exacted something of a toll on UPN’s prime-time lineup. UPN’s adults 18 to 49 and adults 18 to 34 demos (both at 1.5/4 averages) experienced respective 8 percent and
17 percent declines.