The halo effect of the Super Bowl has kept Fox ahead in the adults 18 to 49 February sweeps race by more than double its nearest competitor, but when it comes to its season-to-date average, the race for No. 1 in the demo couldn’t be any closer. CBS ties Fox for the top spot for the season, with ABC and NBC close behind.
For the first 14 days of the February sweeps, Fox scored an 8.0 rating in the adults 18 to 49 demographic, according to Nielsen Media Research, up a whopping 95 percent from the same period in February 2004. CBS came in second for the first two full weeks of sweeps, scoring a 3.9 in the demo, down 15 percent from the previous February. ABC and NBC were tied with a 3.6, with ABC posting a 16 percent gain from last February and NBC dropping 27 percent for the sweeps. The WB was down 13 percent for February to a 1.4, while UPN was down 29 percent to a 1.2.
While the February sprint is a clear win for Fox, the marathon that is the season has the top four networks all practically running in a dead heat. Fox’s and CBS’s performances are identical; both networks garnered a 4.0 rating in adults 18 to 49 from the beginning of the 2004-05 season through the middle of last week, and each was down 2 percent from this time last season. ABC, benefiting from its rookies “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost,” was third with a 3.9, up 14 percent from its 2003-04 average, while last season’s No. 1 network, NBC, had dropped 12 percent to fourth place with a 3.7. The WB and UPN were tied at a 1.4 rating each in the demo, with The WB down 7 percent and UPN flat from the previous season.
Fox has repeated its pattern from last season, when it was uncompetitive in November only to make up for its slow start during the first half of the season with an “American Idol”-powered rejuvenation in the second half. Last Tuesday showed “Idol’s” strength as the fourth-season musical reality competition scored an 11.5 rating in the demo, easily becoming the highest-rated show of the night for the fifth consecutive Tuesday. Even though it held just under half its adults 18 to 49 lead-in, Fox’s medical drama “House” scored a 5.6 rating, tying NBC’s perennial Tuesday night performer “Law & Order: SVU” for the second-highest-rated show of the night. Fox’s performance gave it a nightly average of 8.6 in the demo, 161 percent higher than its closest competitor, NBC, which averaged a 3.3 on Tuesday night.
CBS’s consistent performance with its procedural dramas, family comedies such as “Everybody Loves Raymond” and reality offerings including the strengthening “Amazing Race” has allowed it to stay competitive, tying it for the season with Fox, which owes much of its success to special programming, including postseason baseball, the Super Bowl and the phenomenon that is “Idol.”
ABC, which was not a dominant player last season, has seen how much impact its Sunday night hit “Housewives” has had on its schedule. The show’s performance Feb. 13 is an indicator of its draw: While CBS won the night in the demo with the telecast of “The 47th Annual Grammy Awards,” the Eye Network lost the 9 p.m. hour to ABC, thanks to “Housewives.” The women of Wisteria Lane beat back an array of recording artists by 18 percent among adults 18 to 49 and by more than 3 million viewers.
Last Wednesday was a good example of each of the top four networks’ strengths and weaknesses. ABC’s “Lost” won the 8 p.m. time period with a 6.7 rating, with Fox taking over at 9 p.m. with an 11.5 for “Idol.” At the 10 p.m. hour, CBS was the leader in the demo with a 4.9 for “CSI: NY,” eclipsing the former time period winner, NBC’s “Law & Order,” which remained competitive with a 4.3. But in keeping with the spirit of the sweeps, Fox was the network to watch: With help from its 8 p.m. comedy block of “That ’70s Show” and the third installment of “The Simple Life,” Fox won the night with a 7.7 in the demo.