NBC Unseats CBS for Sweeps Second Place

Nov 20, 2006  •  Post A Comment

There’s been a ratings upset two weeks into the November sweeps race: NBC has climbed into second place behind leader ABC, knocking perennial runner-up CBS down to third among adults 18 to 49.

Propelled by its breakout drama “Heroes” and sports franchise “Sunday Night Football,” NBC is up a steep 21 percent to a 4.0 rating for the first 14 days of sweeps compared with the same period last year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

CBS, while still leading the pack in total viewers, is down 16 percent to a 3.8 for the sweeps period, which is used to set advertising rates for television stations. Season to date, CBS continues to hold onto its second-place position among adults 18 to 49, but NBC is gaining there as well and now trails by a tenth of a rating point.

Brad Adgate, senior VP of research for Horizon, found the CBS drop “a little surprising.”

“Some of those shows are getting long in the tooth and the competition is getting stiffer,” he said. “I’d say the changes are a cause for concern.”

NBC’s advance may signal an uptick in its fortunes, which have suffered in the past two years as the network failed to replicate the success of its “Friends” and “Seinfeld” franchises. The ratings decline pushed NBC from the top spot into fourth place two seasons ago, and cost as much as $1 billion in lost ad revenue at the network and its stations. NBC Universal Television Group CEO Jeff Zucker has responded with a plan to trim $750 million in spending.

Most of CBS’s current ratings drain among the 18- to 49-year-old viewers prized by advertisers can be attributed to year-to-year decreases among eight of its nine crime dramas.

Two of the shows-“Cold Case” (down 14 percent) and “Without a Trace” (down 38 percent-changed time periods to strengthen CBS’s Sunday night lineup. But most of CBS’s other crime shows also show some erosion among 18- to 49-year-olds in their familiar slots. “Close to Home” is down 9 percent, “CSI” is down 30 percent, “CSI: Miami” is down 6 percent, “CSI: NY” is down 12 percent and “Numb3rs” is down 9 percent.

“CSI” has taken a particularly hard hit due to ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” moving opposite its Thursday night time period and luring viewers.

CBS’s reality shows are also having trouble. “Survivor” is down 24 percent and “Amazing Race” is down 22 percent in the age group so far in sweeps.

One bright spot for the channel is the Wednesday show “Criminal Minds” (up 19 percent), which has recently been beating ABC’s “Lost” among total viewers.

Looking at season to date instead of only the sweeps period, the numbers are not as dire. “CSI:NY” is down only 4 percent as opposed to 12 percent, for example, and “CSI” is down only 23 percent instead of 30. And during the past two weeks, “CSI” has been closing the gap with “Grey’s.”

CBS spokesman Chris Ender, explaining the sweeps numbers, pointed out that during last year November, the network had the “CMA Awards,” the miniseries “Category 7” and the special “I Walk The Line: A Night for Johnny Cash.”

“We’re somewhat the victim of a comparison to an extraordinary November sweeps in 2006,” Mr. Ender said. “That being said, we’re hardly a wallflower for the month. We’re number one in viewers, number one in 25 to 54 and competitive in 18 to 49.”

Mr. Ender said CBS will stick with its new Sunday-night lineup, despite “Trace” and “Cold Case” losing viewers. Season to date, “Trace” has improved its new time period by 52 percent and “Cold Case” has improved its period by 21 percent.

“We still stand by that move,” he said. “We’ve improved ourselves dramatically on Sunday. While ‘Shark’ [on Thursday] is starting to inch up and demonstrate the same type of retention that ‘Without a Trace’ did early on.”

Among the other networks, ABC continued to lead the pack with a 4.2. Fox continued to trail with a 2.8. The CW and Univision were tied with a 1.5.