Sweeps Youth Elixir for CBS

Dec 6, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Move over, NBC. November belongs to CBS, and not just in total viewers.

For the first time since 1980, CBS has won a November sweeps in the adults 18 to 49 demographic, finally knocking perennial winner NBC from its perch as the No.1 network in the demo.

CBS scored a 4.5 rating and a 12 share for the November sweeps in adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen Media Research. That’s up 7 percent from the 4.2/11 rating the network scored in the demo in November 2003. In contrast, last November’s No. 1 performer in the demo, NBC, was down 9 percent from a 4.4/12 average in November 2003 to a 4.0/10 in adults 18 to 49 for November 2004.

NBC finds itself in a tie for the second-place spot with a strengthening ABC, which grew 8 percent from last year’s 3.7/10 to a 4.0/11. Fox scored a 3.0/8 in the demo for November, down 3 percent from last year, while The WB was unchanged with a 1.6/4 and UPN was down 6 percent to a 1.5/4.

Viacom co-President and co-Chief Operating Officer Leslie Moonves didn’t wait until the November sweeps ended to declare CBS the victor. On Nov. 30, two days before the ratings period ended, Mr. Moonves said in a conference call with reporters that past comments from industry executives deriding CBS as a geezer network no longer apply.

“Guess what,” Mr. Moonves said, “we put these quotes on our locker room wall and it has served us very well.”

Not only did CBS have seven of the top 15 series during sweeps among adults 18 to 49, the network also had its first sweeps victory in the demo on Thursday since 1984, when Bill Cosby and his genre-saving, self-titled sitcom joined NBC’s lineup. CBS’s Thursday night drama “CSI” was the No. 1 show in total viewers and No. 2 in adults 18 to 49. Mr. Moonves said the performance of the network’s series showed CBS could score with regular programming and without relying on stunts.

“We didn’t program specifically for sweeps,” he said. “The reason we won was because of our series. Most of what we had was our regular series programming.”

The network’s strength among young viewers didn’t stop with adults 18 to 49. CBS was up 14 percent among adults 18 to 34 from November 2003 to November 2004 (2.8 versus 3.2) and up 16 percent among persons 12 to 34 (2.5 versus 2.9).

Mr. Moonves said CBS will take advantage of its new youthful strength with advertisers during the 2005 upfronts.

“Obviously, come May what we are going to be selling is everything across the board,” he said. “NBC has been able to book more money. There will definitely be more money coming in to us in May.”

If CBS’s sweeps results are bullish, the results for NBC can be described as bearish. Aside from a drop in its adults 18 to 49 number, NBC lost 11 percent of its adults 18 to 34 rating November to November (3.8/12 versus 3.4/10). The network is also down among adults 25 to 54 (-8 percent), teens (-11 percent) and persons 18 to 34 (-12 percent).

Tom Bierbaum, VP of ratings and program information for NBC Universal Television Group, said CBS’s performance isn’t all that surprising since the ratings race has been very competitive for several sweeps periods. He also said some crucial programming changes have taken place that gave CBS the edge this November, including the performance of the disaster miniseries “Category 6: Day of Destruction.”

“It’s reflective of what is a very even playing field right now,” Mr. Bierbaum said. “I don’t think this is a major movement from what we’ve seen for years. A few things have happened this fall, not the least of which is `Friends’ left our schedule, and the `CSI’ franchise has come on like gangbusters. So we’ve seen a movement of a few tenths, and that has brought [CBS] a great month. And keep in mind `Category Six’ brought them four hours of exceptional numbers. That’s not to take away from their regular lineup, which performed extremely well.”