WB opens season with a ratings bang

Sep 30, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The WB and CBS had a lot to crow about last week with both showing robust young demo growth and overall audience delivery.
The four other broadcast networks were down overall or had minimal gains in key demos and total viewers from a year ago.
“Both CBS and The WB had monster openings, but it is still NBC’s season to win or lose,” said Stacey Lynn Koerner, executive VP of audience research for Initiative Media North America. “I’m going to take a wait-and-see approach because there are still a lot of shows that have not faced normal time period competition, but we should know how things are going to fall into pattern in a few weeks.”
Magna Global USA’s Steve Sternberg was most impressed with the strong early ratings returns from The WB. Much of last season The WB had to come to terms with the loss of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to UPN. But the network enjoyed an unexpected May 2002 sweeps ratings growth spurt, and this season seems to be picking up right where it left off.
For the first four days of the new season last week (Sept. 23-26), Mr. Sternberg’s research report flagged a 47 percent spike year to year for The WB in the adults 18 to 49 demographic, measuring a 2.2 rating/5 share average vs. a comparable 1.5/4 last year. In the broader household measure, The WB’s 3.1/5 average accounted for a 29 percent gain from the year-ago span (2.4/4).
CBS is the only other network posting year-to-year growth, with gains of 26 percent in adults 18 to 49 (5.1/15 vs. 4.7/12) and 16 percent in households (11.0/17 vs. 9.5/15).
“If there is a headline for [last] week, it was The WB re-establishing its comedies on Friday and drama lineups on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings with little advance promotion,” said Bill Carroll, senior VP and director of programming for New York-based station rep giant Katz Television Group.
One key has been the quick start of Monday drama “Everwood,” which premiered two weeks ago with the best-ever series premiere ratings in The WB’s core female 12 to 34 (4.3/12) and teen demos (4.6/14). Last week, the second episode held 82 percent of that rating in females (3.5/9) and 78 percent in teens (3.9/11).
“For all of these years, The WB could not find something to click after `7th Heaven,’ so they have to be very encouraged to see the week-to-week numbers holding up nicely on `Everwood,”’ said Tom DeCabia, executive VP and director of national broadcast buying for PHD New York.
Ad buyers were even more impressed with The WB’s returning Tuesday lineup of “Gilmore Girls” and “Smallville.” “Gilmore Girls” scored personal-best ratings in adults 18 to 34 (3.4/10), persons 12 to 34 (3.8/12) and males 12 to 34 (2.4/8). “Gilmore Girls” also beat the season opener of UPN’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” by 26 percent in adults 18 to 34 (2.7/8) and 46 percent in persons 12 to 34 (2.6/8), where the former WB stalwart was down year to year.
While “Gilmore Girls” reached a network-high 7.8/24 in female teens, lead-out “Smallville” retained 68 percent of female teens (5.3/17) and grew its male teens demo by a 184 percent clip (5.4/17 vs. 1.9/7) hour to hour.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a flip like that in the male and female teen demos between two shows on our network, so it’s just a great validation of what we’re trying to do here,” said WB Entertainment President Jordan Levin.
The WB’s rollout of its “Big Sunday” lineup is also racking up robust year-to-year growth stories, possibly due to its expansion into the 5 p.m.-to-7 p.m. Sunday daypart with repeat runs of “Smallville” and “Everwood.” Since they started running Sept. 15, the encore plays have averaged a 1.3/6 in females 12 to 34, 1.1/4 in women 18 to 49, 1.6/8 in female teens and 2.6 million total viewers.
“The 5-to-7 o’clock expansion was more successful than we thought, but it’s allowed our local affiliates to increase their Sunday prime-time ratings by 100 [percent] to 500 percent margins as well,” Mr. Levin said.
In the meantime, CBS has been the only other network boasting strong demo, total viewer and household gains a few days into the new season. Central to CBS’s strategy this season has been the launch of 10 p.m. hour dramas on four nights of its schedule, with last week’s Monday premiere of “CSI: Miami” and Thursday rollout of “Without a Trace” boasting strong overall ratings and year-to-year time period improvements.
“CSI: Miami” improved the 10 p.m. Monday slot year to year by 161 percent in adults 18 to 49 (8.6/21 vs. 3.3/8) and 83 percent in total viewers (23.1 million vs. 9.4 million), contributing to strong lead-in flow to CBS affiliates’ late newscasts and CBS’s “Late Show With David Letterman.”
Even though the 10 p.m. Thursday launch of CBS’s “Without a Trace” came in second to NBC’s “ER” in every measure, the drama boasted 35 percent-plus year-to-year time period increases in adults 18 to 49 (5.8/14 vs. 4.3/11) and total viewers (16.2 million vs. 11.9 million) compared with the fall 2001 series premiere of “The Agency.”
On Thursdays, “ER” continued to experience troubling erosion for NBC, with its 13.2/32 average in adults 18 to 49 and 26.2 million total viewers down 8 percent and 5 percent, respectively, year to year. Still, possibly more troubling to NBC is the 8:30 p.m. Thursday time-slot debut of “Scrubs” holding just 66 percent retention out of the “Friends” opener among adults 18 to 49 (10.9/26 vs. 16.6/41). That’s lower than the 72 percent retention the ill-fated “Inside Schwartz” had in the time period when it premiered in fall 2001. The 9:30 p.m. Thursday series premiere of “Good Morning, Miami,” though, scored 81 percent retention out of “Will & Grace” in the key demo (8.9/20 vs. 11.0/25), although the former was off 16 percent from last year’s “Just Shoot Me” opener (10.6/25).
The mixed results from NBC’s debuting new series, according to the Magna Global report, added up to a 4 percent decline year to year for the network in prime time among adults 18 to 49 (7.0/18) at press time.
ABC, too, was down-14 percent year to year in adults 18 to 49 (4.2/11). But that was considered an improvement by buyers, who were staring at 20 percent-plus decreases last season. Fox’s four-day adults 18 to 49 score (3.3/8) was up 3 percent year to year, but several of its evenings have yet to get off the ground.
Buyers said ABC has gone a long way toward solidifying its so-called “Happy Hour” (8 p.m. to 9 p.m.) Tuesday and Wednesday time slots. The special hour-long season opener last Wednesday of “My Wife and Kids” held a 61 percent advantage in adults 18 to 49 against Fox’s “Bernie Mac” and “Cedric The Entertainer” combo (6.3/18 vs. 3.9/11), but some buyers wonder whether African American viewers will take flight to “Cedric” after “George Lopez” opens in the 8:30 p.m. Wednesday slot this week.
“The fact that our Tuesday numbers held up well in the second week-and we are convinced that `My Wife and Kids’ and `George Lopez’ will be winning adults 18 to 49 players-has us very optimistic,” said ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne.
Year-to-year losses on “Buffy” and a precipitous 43 percent lead-out drop for the Tuesday drama premiere of “Haunted” in adults 18 to 49 (2.3/6 vs. 1.3/3) do not bode well for UPN, buyers said. UPN has seen 33 percent and 24 percent declines year to year in adults 18 to 49 (2.0/5 vs. 3.0/8) and households (2.9/4 vs. 3.8/6), respectively.