NBC, Fox in dead heat for No. 1

Dec 3, 2001  •  Post A Comment

NBC’s apparent threadbare win over Fox in the key adults 18 to 49 demographic-still contested late last week by Fox-could make the November 2001 sweeps as hotly debated as the November 2000 ballot-counting controversy in the presidential election.
At the end of the sweeps (Nov. 1-28), NBC’s 5.1 rating/13 share average held a narrow one-tenth of a point lead over Fox (5.0/13). However, late last week, Fox officials claimed that its resurgent Wednesday comedy lineup on Nov. 28 was pre-empted by an affiliate in Cincinnati for a basketball game. With the station pre-empting Fox’s lineup and re-airing the Wednesday shows last weekend, Fox officials think the network could make up the current difference of roughly 9,000 viewers in adults 18 to 49, moving it into a tie with NBC.
But NBC West Coast President Scott Sassa noted that by excluding sports programming-notably the three World Series telecasts during sweeps-Fox would sink roughly 18 percent to a 4.2 rating in adults 18 to 49 (behind NBC’s 5.0 rating average), which would actually put Fox at about a 10 percent ratings loss on a year-to-year basis with regular series programming.
Much less controversial was CBS’s clear-cut win among households and total viewers. CBS also made across-the-board demo gains. UPN made broad household and demo gains, while The WB and ABC suffered losses in the young demos.
“There was no question this was an odd sweeps, with the World Series airing three games [on Fox] and `The Emmy Awards’ [on CBS] going on for the first time ever in a November sweeps,” Mr. Sassa said. “What we’re most proud of is that our regular series, with only a few programming stunts added in, showed incredible resilience during this sweeps.”
Despite the bounce Fox got from the World Series, it also put the network in the unenviable position of launching five of its seven nights during November sweeps.
“There was nothing typical about this sweeps or any sweeps, but having baseball in November presented opportunities as well as unique challenges in getting the rest of our schedule launched,” said Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group.
Mr. Grushow congratulated NBC for its sweeps performance, including the Peacock Network’s lengthened run of the celebrity version of “Fear Factor,” which ran six minutes past its expected 9 p.m. (ET) end time last Tuesday in order to disrupt audience migration to Fox’s “24,” ABC’s “NYPD Blue” and CBS’s “The Guardian.”
In what has become the most hotly contested hour in television, “24” showed some resilience of its own, with its 4.4/10 average in the key demo scoring much-needed 7 percent growth from the previous week (4.1/10). Still, NBC’s stunt with “Fear Factor” had it pulling a personal-best 7.5/20 and propelling lead-outs “Frasier” (7.2/12) and “Scrubs” (5.9/14) to wins in the critical 9 p.m. hour.
“Jeff [Zucker, president of NBC Entertainment] is an out-of-the-box thinker, so [the “Fear Factor” stunting] was not entirely unexpected,” Mr. Grushow said.
In similar out-of-the-box fashion, CBS Network Television President and CEO Les Moonves used unusual stunting strategies by going with a mix of nostalgia-themed specials and concert events to boost CBS’s young adult demographics (see story, Page 4). But at the core of CBS’s wins in households (8.9/14) and total viewers (13.7 million) was the network’s domination in both categories on Monday and Tuesday evenings and its strong second-place showings on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
Mr. Moonves claimed the network is poised to get 1 percent to 2 percent overall ad revenue increases year to year out of the remainder of the fourth-quarter and first-quarter scatter markets. CBS could also be banking on getting higher premiums in such key demos as adults 18 to 49 (4.5/12) and adults 25 to 54 (5.3/13), where it is up 18 percent and 13 percent year to year, respectively.
“The scatter market is showing definite signs of strengthening,” Mr. Moonves said. “We have some avails left, while ABC and Fox will be busy [using their ad inventory] with make-goods” to cover under-deliveries in certain key young demos.
Indeed, with ABC realizing 20 percent-plus losses in the key adult demos, ABC co-Chairmen Lloyd Braun and Stu Bloomberg suggested that former tentpole “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” may not be part of the network’s fall 2002 schedule. Mr. Bloomberg said ABC needs to return to its “core sensibilities” in developing younger-skewing scripted dramas and comedies, where it has found success this season with new entries “Alias,” “My Wife and Kids” and “According to Jim.”
“We can’t say with certainty that `Millionaire’ will be on the fall schedule, but we hope it will,” Mr. Braun said. Disney, ABC’s parent company, has “Millionaire” set to enter strip syndication in January on local stations. “It is possible that `Millionaire’ won’t be in prime time,” Mr. Braun said. “I am not saying it is likely, but it is possible.”
ABC’s ongoing drain in the younger adult demos and The WB’s declines in its core persons 12 to 34 (2.3/7, down 12 percent) and females 12 to 34 (3.0/9, down 9 percent) demos have UPN executives posturing about taking share from both networks. UPN is up on a year-to-year basis in most of the key demos (except males 12 to 34 and teens), including a 5 percent increase in persons 12 to 34 (2.1/6) and an 11 percent rise in females 12 to 34 (2.0/6).
Much of that 12 to 34 demo growth has been attributed to new 8 p.m. anchors “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the “Star Trek” prequel “Enterprise” on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, respectively. Adam Ware, chief operating officer of UPN, said the network’s growth of its 8 p.m. anchor hours extends to four of its five evenings (all but Thursday), while The WB is down year to year in persons 12 to 34 for its opening hour on all six of its evenings.
“The strength of any network’s schedule comes from its anchor hours, and what we are saying from data is that we’re up on almost all of our nights, while The WB is finding that its foundation is cracking across its schedule,” Mr. Ware said.
Jordan Levin, president of entertainment for The WB, is quick to point out that the Frog Network still beats UPN on four of the five nights they go head to head (again, all but Thursday) in winning the persons 12 to 34 and females 12 to 34 demographics.
“Everyone knows how to crunch and spin the numbers, but we’re the winner in females 12 to 34, and we are still succeeding on our mission statement to advertisers from the very beginning of this network,” Mr. Levin said.
Mr. Levin acknowledged that midseason tinkering is in store for the network’s sagging Sunday comedy and Wednesday drama lineups, as well as possibly for its troubled 8 p.m. Thursday time slot, where “Popstars 2” is down 26 percent year to year in persons 12 to 34.