CBS Ekes Out Sweeps Lead

Nov 21, 2005  •  Post A Comment

CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler might want to send gift baskets to Keith Urban and Lee Ann Womack.

Despite delivering its lowest adults 18 to 49 rating ever, the Country Music Awards telecast Nov. 15 helped CBS edge out ABC to take the top spot in the demo for the first two weeks of the November sweeps.

CBS led the Big 6 networks for the first 14 days of the sweeps in the demo with a 4.5 prime-time rating average, according to Nielsen Media Research. That pushed the demo winner of the first week of sweeps, ABC, into the No. 2 position, with a 4.3 rating. NBC (3.3) and Fox (3.1) made up the second tier of networks, while The WB and UPN (both 1.5) stayed competitive with each other at the low end of the ratings scale.

In year-to-year performance, ABC was the only network to show growth in the demo during the first two weeks of sweeps, with the rest of the networks either flat or down among adults 18 to 49.

For the first week of sweeps, regularly scheduled programming defined most network schedules, with specials playing a minor factor in the overall ratings race. But in the second week of sweeps CBS’s broadcast of “The 39th Annual Country Music Awards” helped change the ratings dynamic. The Tuesday broadcast gave CBS its first demo win in the 2005-06 season, despite the fact the awards show was down 8 percent from last year to a 5.4.

That was still good enough to eclipse the season’s perennial Tuesday winner, NBC, which has dominated on the night, thanks to the new comedy “My Name Is Earl” and veteran drama “Law & Order: SVU.” NBC came in behind CBS with a 4.8 on Tuesday.

But CBS’s performance has not been dependent on once-a-year specials like the CMAs, said Brad Adgate, senior VP and corporate research director for Horizon Media.

“When you look at the sweeps, what’s pulling them along are the procedural dramas and ‘Survivor,'” Mr. Adgate said. “They are still doing it with the strength of their schedule.”

A demo win for CBS in the November sweeps would repeat its performance from last year, when the network took the top spot among the networks in adults 18 to 49 for the first time in 24 years. But ABC, a recent ratings laggard until last year’s success, is gunning for its first demo win in November since 1999.

For the second full week of sweeps, certain high-value nights remained the domain of certain networks: CBS dominated Thursday with “CSI” and ABC won on Sunday with “Desperate Housewives.”

The title for No. 1 in adults 18 to 49 will continue to swing back and forth between ABC and CBS for the rest of November, Mr. Adgate said.

“It’s a tight race, and it will probably go down to the last night,” he said.

While CBS is tops for the first two weeks of November in both adults 18 to 49 and total viewers, “Housewives”- and “Grey’s Anatomy”-driven ABC was the winner in women 18 to 34 with a 4.1 rating, an 11 percent increase over its performance with young adult females from a year ago. All of the other networks were down in the demo for the year, except for CBS’s little sister network, UPN, which grew 10 percent over the first two weeks of last November to a 2.3.

“There’s been a shift,” Mr. Adgate said, noting that The WB, which has seen a ratings decline in female-friendly shows such as “One Tree Hill,” was down 9 percent for the first two weeks of the sweeps to a 2.1 among women 18 to 34.

At the same time, UPN’s focus on young women seems to be paying off, he said.

“They certainly have got a lot of buzz, and some of the shows have been pretty solid,” Mr. Adgate said. “Viewers are starting to know what they are about.”