Now that the last shots have been fired between CBS’s much-hyped “Survivor: The Australian Outback” and NBC’s “Must-See TV” lineup, the real battle for May sweeps supremacy begins in earnest.
As NBC looks to maintain its adults 18 to 49 demo crown with more than two weeks of the sweeps left, it could be Fox that is ruffling the Peacock Network’s feathers. And if Fox can keep its season-long momentum going, its first-week sweeps tracking has it positioned to make end-of-season winning runs for the adults 18 to 34 and teen demographics as well.
“There is very little major stunting left on the other networks, and what makes us feel really good is that we have continued our momentum with largely regularly scheduled programming,” said Preston Beckman, Fox’s executive vice president of scheduling and program planning.
Fox’s Saturday-through-Tuesday prime-time lineups (April 28 to May 1) scored outright wins in the coveted adults 18 to 49 demo, with the network’s 4.3 rating/13 share average posting 8 percent growth over the year-ago sweeps period (4.0/12).
The first-week sweeps increase kept pace with the 7 percent season-to-date increase in adults 18 to 49, where Fox’s 4.5/12 average is off just two-tenths of a rating point, or 4 percent, from NBC’s top-ranked 4.7/13. NBC is down 6 percent this season in the key demo year to year.
ABC is tied with Fox among adults 18 to 49 season to date with a 4.5/12, which is down 18 percent from last year.
“I think we’re in a position where we can either tie ABC for second in adults 18 to 49 or possibly pass them by a tenth of a point or so,” Mr. Beckman said. His confidence may not be unfounded, because Fox’s first-week May sweeps averages in adults 18 to 34 (4.5/15), persons 12 to 34 (4.4/15) and teens (3.9/14) are holding the high ground with increases in the 7 percent to 8 percent range year to year. Those increases also correspond closely to top-ranked positions Fox holds season to date in adults 18 to 34 (4.6/16) and teens (4.0/13).
Meanwhile, NBC hopes to hold on to the adults 18 to 49 crown powered by ratings upturns on Wednesday night. The Peacock’s Wednesday drama lineup of “Ed,” “The West Wing” and “Law & Order” posted a top-ranked 6.0/17 in adults 18 to 49, with 18 percent growth week to week.
“Weakest Link” has helped boost NBC’s Monday lineup despite dropping 28 percent week to week in the demo during the first week of sweeps with a second-ranked 4.2/13. NBC Entertainment President Jeffrey Zucker said “Weakest Link” has improved the Peacock’s position by 40 percent on the night since its debut April 9.
Perhaps the most daunting question is whether “Survivor II” took any steam out of NBC’s “Friends” as it enters its last two turns for the sweeps. Last Thursday’s 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. (ET) finale of “Survivor: The Australian Outback” scored a 19.8 rating/31 share average in households and 35.7 million total viewers, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data released Friday.
“Survivor II’s” household, total viewers and key-demo ratings were about double NBC’s “Must-See TV” comedies, which dropped to their lowest levels of the season. “Survivor II’s” 15.6/38 average in adults 18 to 49 held a 116 percent ratings advantage over NBC’s quartet of Thursday comedies (7.2/18), which nevertheless were down only 5 percent from their previous week average (7.6/20) in the two-hour frame.
In fact, CBS’s overall 23 percent and 9 percent gains in adults 18 to 34 (2.7/9) and adults 18 to 49 (3.6/11), respectively, during the first week of sweeps have been largely attributed to the younger-adult pull of “Survivor II” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” However, with a “Survivor II” rehash show slated for May 10, much of CBS’s unusual youth thrust could diminish in the last half of the sweeps.