ABC Leaps to Top of Sweeps Pack

Feb 13, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The first full week of the February sweeps was super for ABC.

Thanks to the network’s Sunday, Feb. 5, telecast of Super Bowl XL, ABC earned nearly double the ratings of its closest competitor for the first seven days of the sweeps period.

But with the Winter Olympics scheduled to run on NBC for more than two weeks and the continued strength of Fox’s “American Idol,” ABC is likely to learn ice skating divas and pop star wannabes can tackle even the toughest quarterbacks this February sweeps.

In the first week of the sweeps, which began Thursday, Feb. 2, ABC was the top network with an 8.7 rating in the adults 18 to 49 demographic, a number that includes live-plus-same-day DVR viewing, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Fox, which last year benefited from having the Super Bowl, was second for the week with a 4.5. But if you remove Super Bowl Sunday from the mix, the current strength of the “Idol”-powered Fox becomes apparent with the network taking the No. 1 spot with a 5.1 in the demo, CBS in second place with a 4.8 and ABC and NBC tied for third with a 3.3.

But nothing from the first week takes into account the real network player for February sweeps: NBC, whose Olympics coverage was scheduled to begin last Friday, said Brad Adgate, senior VP and corporate research director for Horizon Media.

“The Olympics is going to change everything,” Mr. Adgate said. “NBC is going to win the February sweeps, because they have the Olympics. They are going to win 17 nights, and win it strong.”

The first week, however, clearly belonged to ABC. The Sunday telecast of Super Bowl XL, in which the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks 21-10, was up 4 percent from last year’s game to a 34.6 rating in the adults 18 to 49 demographic.

The biggest winner for Feb. 5 was not necessarily the Steelers but the Super Bowl lead-out, ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” The medical drama posted a series high in the demo with a 16.6, making the show not only the highest-rated nonsports program for the season to date but also the highest-rated nonsports program on network television since the finale of NBC’s “Friends” in May 2004.

Showing the strength of its traditional Monday night lineup, CBS proved that year-round programming is a good way to go, winning the night in the demo with a 5.0 rating. The network also had the highest-rated show for the night with “CSI: Miami” (6.3) at 10 p.m. (ET), eclipsing the No. 2 show on Monday, Fox’s 9 p.m. real-time drama “24” (5.8).

Fox’s strength was apparent on Tuesday, when “Idol” was the highest-rated program with a 12.9 in adults 18 to 49, and its lead-out, medical drama “House” (8.7), was second for the night in the demo with an 8.7.

But Wednesday was even more of a revelation, when head-to-head music competition pushed Fox to the top. “Idol” scored an 11.4 in the demo, outperforming CBS’s telecast of the 48th Annual Grammy Awards (7.1), which drew its smallest audience in adults 18 to 49 in more than 15 years.

CBS didn’t have many options when it came to scheduling the awards show on a less competitive night, Mr. Adgate said.

“They have usually aired on Sunday,” Mr. Adgate said of the Grammys, noting that with the Super Bowl, three weeks of Olympics coverage on Sundays and the Oscars scheduled to be telecast on the Sunday immediately after the sweeps, another night had to be considered.

“They had to pick another night with less competition, but ‘American Idol’ didn’t make it an easier night,” he said.

It was also “ironic” that the Grammys featured a performance by first-season “Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson, who won two awards, but still lost out to the show that made her a star, Mr. Adgate said.

“Idol’s” performance proves it is still formidable competition for the Olympics, he said, calling the show “an effective counter-program to anything on television.”

“It will make an impact on any show it goes up against,” he said. “It’s the 800-pound gorilla. It’s a competitive fact the networks have to look at.”