Some ad buyers predicted that CBS would overtake NBC’s stronghold on Thursdays-the night when the most ad dollars are spent-and the first week of the season validated that outlook.
CBS won last week’s Thursday night battle in both total viewers and in the adults 18 to 49 demographic, a key measure for most advertisers.
“It’s been a long time coming. NBC’s been slowly going down and CBS has slowly been coming up,” said Jon Mandel, co-CEO of MediaCom.
CBS had a very strong week, ad buyers said, with its big new show “CSI: New York” opening strong, and beating NBC’s “Law & Order” on Wednesday night.
Mr. Mandel noted it was still early in the season. NBC’s “Joey,” a show on which much of NBC’s Thursday night hopes rest, might actually get good, because comedies take a long time to gel,” he said.
But he doesn’t like how Donald Trump looks. “I don’t understand how `Apprentice’ is going to survive, simply because the show has gotten awful,” he said. “Even my 15-year-old said, `Dad, it was so much better when it was about business.’ It’s like a drama and the commercial load is way too high. It’s just not a fascinating show anymore.”
Ad buyers also said that struggling ABC might have come up with a hit with “Lost.”
“They must be doing backflips over there” at ABC, said Ray Warren, managing director at OMD.
“It was a great pilot,” Mr. Warren said, although it may take time to see if the series will play out as strong as the first episode.
“They got them in the tent. Now they’ve got to keep them there,” he said. “We like high ratings. I’m rooting for anyone who can pull in 20 million viewers. “
Mr. Warren said that ABC’s head of ad sales, Mike Shaw, scheduled a lunch for them for next week before knowing how the season would start. “Now he gets to feel good about it.
Jason Maltby, co-executive director of national TV, MindShare, was among the buyers who said ABC did a good job promoting “Lost.” “It drove people to the initial episode. The key is are they going to come back next week,” he said.
But Mr. Maltby added that “with every silver lining for ABC there’s a cloud, and that’s `The Bachelor.’ They can’t be too happy about that falloff because that’s been one of their mainstays over the past three years, `The Bachelor’ and the `Bachelorette.”‘
Mr. Mandel of MediaCom downplayed the significance of “Lost.” “ABC is so down that even if you get a little tremor, it’s a sign of life,” he said. “I wouldn’t necessarily call it a hit. They still have a long way to go. The days of `you need one hit to turn a network around’ are long gone. You need a lot more than that for them to get into the real world,” Mr. Mandel said.
At this point in the season, Mr. Mandel said it was way too early to see whether, after years of ratings erosion, any of the broadcasters would meet their audience delivery targets.
“I refuse to take one dot and make it into a trend,” Mr. Mandel said. “I think it’s too early to tell if we’ll have underdelivery issues. We and they [the networks] both anticipate some underdelivery. Is this within the realm? We’ll see over time.”