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Buyers Like ABC’s Chances

Jun 6, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Leading media buyers predict that ABC has a strong chance of being the No. 1 network in the key 18 to 49 demographic next season.

ABC’s upcoming drama series “Commander-in-Chief” is expected to be one of next season’s highest-rated new shows, along with NBC’s “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.”

Following last month’s schedule announcements, the research and programming departments at the buying agencies create share estimates for each of the network’s shows to help guide decisions about how to invest their clients’ ad dollars.

Based on that analysis, “ABC has a good chance of winning the season on 18 to 49,” said Steve Sternberg, executive VP and director of audience analysis at Magna Global.

A programming executive at another leading media buyer agreed with Mr. Sternberg that ABC would lead the season in the demo but possibly just into the fourth quarter. The programming executive said that when Fox’s “American Idol” returns in the first quarter, Fox could pop to the top as it did in the 2004-05 TV season.

The agencies usually produce estimates for the fourth quarter and sometimes for the following year’s first quarter. With the way the networks cancel shows and switch time periods, looking any further ahead is not worthwhile, they say.

Mr. Sternberg said he expects the full season race to be close, like last season. “You have a tenth of a rating point separating first, second, third, even fourth,” he said. Ultimately, ABC could win the season because it will televise the Super Bowl, which helped Fox take the 18 to 49 title for the 2004-05 season.

“They [at ABC] have ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ for a full year and ‘Boston Legal’ on for 27 episodes. There will be a lot fewer repeats. Those things will help them a lot,” Mr. Sternberg said.

Though viewership of the broadcast networks was stable in 2004-05, Mr. Sternberg expects some erosion next year. He sees ratings for ABC and Fox slipping the least, and CBS to be down slightly more.

Mr. Sternberg said he expects NBC’s woes to continue, losing another 5 percent to 6 percent in the demo. Though NBC kept its sinking Thursday night lineup in place, changes on other nights could help. “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart” will do better on Wednesday than what NBC had on this year, and “The West Wing,” moving to Sunday, will do better than “American Dreams” did on that day, he said.

“NBC will probably remain in its fourth-place position in the 18 to 49 demo,” said an agency executive who declined to be identified.

Mr. Sternberg’s figures show “Martha Stewart” as the top-rated new show. “It’s in a weak time period, and we’re talking a 12 household share. That’s not that great,” he said. He has “Commander-in-Chief” as the next highest-rated show. The other agency executive had “Commander-in-Chief” at the top of the list, followed by NBC’s upcoming Pentagon drama “E-Ring.”

Mr. Sternberg sees the sitcom “Out of Practice” as CBS’s highest-rated new show because of its time period, the slot following “Two and a Half Men,” which is moving to 9 p.m. Monday nights. But he suspects it will lose more viewers from “Two and a Half Men” than another new CBS

sitcom, “How I Met Your Mother,” will lose from its lead-in, “King of Queens.”

Among the lowest-rated new shows will be “Love Inc.” from UPN and “Related” from The WB, according to Mr. Sternberg.

ABC’s lowest-rated show should be “Night Stalker,” which is in the 9 p.m. Thursday time slot. CBS’s weakest show should be “Ghost Whisperer,” and “Inconceivable” will be at the bottom of NBC’s barrel. “The Gate” will not open wide for Fox, he added.

Though it was a critical hit during upfront week, Mr. Sternberg said, UPN’s “Everybody Hates Chris” to have a rough time in its Thursday 8 p.m. time slot against veteran shows such as CBS’s “Survivor,” Fox’s “The O.C.,” NBC’s “Joey,” ABC’s “Alias,” and The WB’s “Smallville.”

“There are only so many people that are going to be available to watch,” he said. “Everything else already has an audience.”