NBC flexes Olympian strength, but UPN shows muscle too

Mar 4, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Facing competition from NBC’s Winter Olympics and Fox’s Super Bowl XXXVI broadcast, the February 2002 sweeps resembled a war of attrition for the other broadcast networks-except UPN.
In particular, ABC appeared completely exposed, lacking any major program stunting to stem its across-the-board ratings erosion. And CBS did not have an in-sweeps “Survivor”-opting instead to premiere “Survivor: Marquesas” last Thursday for a May sweeps run.
NBC’s 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics gave the network a dominating 8.9 rating/22 share average in adults 18 to 49 for the sweeps-commanding a 62 percent advantage over second-place Fox (5.5/14). According to Nielsen Media Research’s preliminary national data, NBC chalked up a 65 percent increase over its year-ago 5.4/14 average in the key demo. Fox was also up 6 percent over its year-ago sweeps average (5.2/13).
On an overall basis, NBC also had robust increases of 42 percent in adults 18 to 34 (6.8/20), 73 percent in households (14.9/24) and 92 percent in total viewers (24.2 million)-winning in all three categories for the sweeps.
However, New York ad buyers won’t be ballyhooed whatsoever by the extraordinary Olympic-size returns, which also netted a 19.2/32 in households (up 18 percent over the 16.3/26 generated by CBS’s 1998 Winter Olympics from Nagano, Japan). Instead, buyers will opt to exclude such major sports and stunting and buy off of “pure” regular series averages.
Steve Sternberg, senior VP/director of audience analysis for media buying giant Magna Global, issued a report (taking into account data through Feb. 25) showing that NBC’s 5.0 rating season-to-date in adults 18 to 49 is down 6 percent from its year-ago average (5.3) based on regular series programming. Similarly, Fox’s 4.2 rating this season in the demo is down 20 percent from its comparable season-to-date average (5.3 rating).
CBS, Magna’s report said, is up 5 percent year to year in adults 18 to 49 (4.1 rating vs. 3.9), while ABC is down 19 percent (3.9 vs. 4.8). UPN’s 18 percent gain is the largest of the broadcast networks (2.0 vs. 1.7), while The WB is down 5 percent (1.7 vs. 1.8).
In fact, it is UPN that is possibly best poised to convince ad buyers to shift more scatter dollars into its key adults 18 to 49 and 18 to 34 sales categories. David Poltrack, CBS’s executive VP of research and planning, who also now oversees UPN’s audience research, said it was UPN’s best February sweeps in five years. In estimating that 93 percent of UPN’s sweeps schedule was regular series, Mr. Poltrack claimed UPN showed growth in all key young-adult demos across all five nights of its weeknight prime-time lineup.
“What is particularly encouraging is that UPN can maintain this season-long pattern of growth, despite going up against this Olympics juggernaut on NBC,” Mr. Poltrack said.
As for CBS, the network’s declines in adults 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, while expected to be reclaimed by the start of “Survivor: Marquesas,” could put some pressure on the Eye Network to concoct a strong lineup of May sweeps stunting.
“There is going to be more `Survivor’ in this May sweeps than the last one, so we’re optimistic about the island setting and new cast rekindling some excitement to the series,” Mr. Poltrack said.