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UPN raises the stakes in sweeps

Nov 19, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Is UPN becoming the WB slayer?
Midway through the November sweeps, the battle for market share between the two is one of the more heated contests.
UPN’s across-the-board increases in the demographic ratings has the network looking to exploit younger adult losses incurred by The WB and ABC-and to squeeze out market-share advertising gains in what’s left of the fourth-quarter scatter market and into next year.
On four of its five nights of programming, UPN has broadly increased its demo ratings positions, with Thursday’s two-hour “WWF Smackdown!” block being the exception. But UPN does not have to worry about selling the evening, since it is the onus of producer WWF Entertainment to sell the commercial inventory from its time buy on the network.
UPN is up 5 percent for the sweeps to date in the core persons 12 to 34 demo (2.2 rating/7 share). But the weblet, once perceived the all-testosterone network, is up 17 percent year to year in both females 12 to 34 (2.1/6) and females 18 to 34 (2.1/6).
The WB, on other hand, is down 18 percent in persons 12 to 34 (2.3/7), 17 percent in females 12 to 34 (3.0/8) and 16 percent in females 18 to 34 (2.7/7). Overall, the ratings for The WB are down on five of its six nights in its target persons 12 to 34 demo, with its new Friday sitcom lineup (including “Reba”) being the exception.
“Right now, we are overdelivering in both our male and female demographics by significant margins over last year’s fourth quarter,” said Adam Ware, chief operating officer of UPN. “What we’re saying to the advertising community is that if they have a dollar to spend, we’re a better return on that investment than The WB currently. If The WB could make them believe it was the only game in town before, we’re saying there are now two players in town.”
“UPN could have a good chance to grab some share of the scatter markets from The WB and ABC, but I’d rather wait a couple of quarters to say if it is anything for the latter networks to be concerned about yet,” said Tim Spengler, executive vice president of national broadcast buying for Initiative Media. “UPN is up on four out of five nights, and `WWF’ is still good enough of a platform to work from, making them fairly solid-looking across their whole schedule.”
Jed Petrick, president and chief operating officer of The WB, countered that the Frog Network has still written more business in the sagging fourth-quarter market than it did at the same time last year during a healthier ad economy.
“Our fourth-quarter scatter market is the highest ever, and our fourth quarter last year beat three previous quarters,” Mr. Petrick said. “We still have six weeks to go for the fourth quarter, and our pricing is well above last year, but to believe UPN’s claim of grabbing share, you’d have to think they’re swimming in dollars.”
Still, one ad buyer, who requested anonymity, said UPN’s gains in the current scatter market “will not be reflective as much in CPM [cost-per-thousand] increases as it will be in increasing their take of the total dollars in the market.” The source added: “Putting the CPM stuff aside, it is where the dollars are coming from and UPN getting on the radar of more [ad] buyers’ budgets into the next year.”
A major battleground between the two weblets is the 8 p.m. (ET) Tuesday slot, where UPN picked up “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” from The WB in a controversial bidding sweepstakes. Whether or not UPN is covering its pricey $2.3 million-per-episode license fee on “Buffy,” the Sarah Michelle Gellar-led drama has posted a 70 percent improvement in persons 12 to 34 (2.9/8) over the time slot’s two-week sweeps score last year. Additionally, “Buffy’s” 2.2/6 in females 12 to 34 has boosted UPN’s profile in the demo by 57 percent year to year.
However, WB researchers are also quick to point out that “Buffy’s” season-to-date numbers-benefiting from a big two-hour debut score (4.7/14 in persons 12 to 34) on Oct. 2-belie an ongoing 38 percent downward ratings trend leading up to its latest score (2.9/8) on Nov. 13. Mr. Petrick is also quick to point out that “Gilmore Girls” is beating “Buffy” by a 34 percent margin in persons 12 to 34 (3.4/11 vs. 2.9/8) for the sweeps to date.
“The fact that we chose `Gilmore Girls’ over `Buffy’ still bears out that it was a fiscally sound decision on our part,” Mr. Petrick said. “`Gilmore Girls,’ combined with a breakout 9 o’clock [Tuesday] show in `Smallville,’ [has] significantly bettered our position on the night.”
Still, “Buffy’s” added pull with the young demos for UPN seems to have been an intangible promotional springboard for the weblet’s 8 p.m. Wednesday “Star Trek” prequel, “Enterprise.”
“We did have high expectations for `Buffy’ and `Enterprise’ in terms of building solid promotional platforms as well,” Mr. Spengler said. “Both of those shows, along with WWF, have only helped elevate UPN’s Monday-night urban sitcoms and Tuesday movie lineup.”