NBC wins 18 to 49, but numbers slip

May 28, 2001  •  Post A Comment

NBC won the battle for the adult 18 to 49 May sweeps crown, but ad buyers may be taking a harder look at other networks before laying down big money this month for fourth quarter 2001. For the first time in years, NBC’s “Must See TV” Thursday lineup-namely “Friends” and companion comedies “Will & Grace” and “Just Shoot Me”-looked bruised by CBS’s “Survivor II” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” onslaught.
Although NBC has held its the 18 to 49 ratings crown through five consecutive sweeps, the network’s single-digit percentage losses year to year point to continued viewer erosion-a story that could also apply to the Big 4 networks’ pattern of losses over the last half-dozen years.
Meanwhile, The WB, Fox and CBS all came out of sweeps with positive momentum and signs of long-term growth.
Overall, NBC won the May 2001 sweeps at a 5.1 rating/15 share among adults 18 to 49, but that rating was down 7 percent from its year-ago sweeps score (5.5/16), according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research national data.
“Look, we’re going to win the sweeps in adults 18 to 49 at one of our widest margins in years [by 19 percent over Fox’s second-ranked 4.3/12], so we’re very proud that we’ve withstood CBS’s attack and those from others,” said NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker.
NBC also edged out second-place Fox in the adults 18 to 34 demo with a 4.5 rating/14 share to Fox’s 4.4/14. Fox’s 18 to 34 ratings, which were down 4 percent, were one of its few sour notes for the sweeps. But Fox’s adults 18 to 49 score was up 5 percent year to year, and its top-ranked teen demo score (3.9/14) was up 8 percent.
With the sweeps marking the traditional end of the 2000-01 season, Fox swept its way to crucial season wins in adults 18 to 34 (4.6/14, up 2 percent) and teens (4.0/14, up 11 percent) and finished a strong second in adults 18 to 49 (4.5/12, up 7 percent)-moving a tenth of a point ahead of ABC (4.4/12) in adults 18 to 49, where it dropped 20 percent year to year. Again, NBC won adults 18 to 49 (4.8/13) for the season, but was down 4 percent from its year-ago average (5.0/14).
“We truly believe, despite all of the news [about CBS’s and NBC’s Thursday ratings war], that this sweep really confirmed Fox’s emergence as a major player” in adults 18 to 49, said Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group.
In a post-May sweeps conference call, CBS Television President Leslie Moonves ballyhooed CBS’s first-place finishes in households (8.6/14, even year to year) and total viewers (12.53 million, down 9 percent) for the 2000-01 season-though much of the network’s late-season spurt can be traced to May’s Thursday runs of “Survivor II” and lead-out “CSI.”
“Survivor II’s” Feb. 1-to-May 10 run supplanted NBC’s “ER” as the top-rated series in households this season with a 17.4 rating/27 share and 29.7 million total viewers, to “ER’s” 15.2/25, 22.4 million viewers. Mr. Moonves proclaimed the month of May as “demonstrating a shift in power” to CBS away from NBC.
During the May sweeps, CBS marked year-to-year improvements of 35 percent in adults 18 to 49 (3.1/10) and 29 percent in adults 12 to 34 (2.7/9). For the season, CBS’s youth growth spurts were considerably smaller: 8 percent in adults 18 to 49 (4.0/11) and 11 percent in adults 18 to 34 (3.0/9).
Meanwhile, for ABC, Father Time seemed to occupy the Alphabet Network, apparently looking for a guest shot on four-nights-a-week fixture “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Despite planting some middling midseason hits, such as “My Wife and Kids” and “What About Joan,” ABC sank 31 percent in adults 18 to 49 (3.8/11) and 29 percent in adults 18 to 34 (3.2/10) during sweeps.
Nevertheless, for the season, ABC did hold on to second-ranked positions in households (8.4/14, down 11 percent) and total viewers (12.51 million, down 12 percent) but held third-ranked positions in adults 18 to 49 (4.4/12, down 20 percent), adults 18 to 34 (3.6/11) and teens (2.7/9, down 27 percent).
The WB continued to be the only broadcast network to maintain a median age just under 30 years old by continuing to score double-digit gains in its core female 12 to 34 (3.0/9, up 20 percent) and persons 12 to 34 (2.2/7, up 16 percent) demos during the May sweeps. The network saw 14 percent and 19 percent increases year to year in adults 18 to 49 (1.4/4) and adults 18 to 34 (1.9/5), respectively, for the season.
“We are the only network delivering on our promise of delivering an incredibly efficient and specific audience [12- to 34-year-olds] while Fox, NBC and ABC are all still chasing the 18 to 49 demographics,” said Jordan Levin, co-president of entertainment at The WB.
UPN, despite being buoyed by acquiring The WB’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Roswell” for next season, is staring at 19 percent and 17 percent declines in persons 12 to 34 (1.7/5) and adults 18 to 34 (1.5/5), respectively, for the May sweeps. For the season, UPN did hold even in adults 18 to 49 (1.6/4), but was down 12 percent in adults 18 to 34 (1.5/4).