CBS executives couldn’t have scripted a better story for February sweeps kickoff week.
First the Super Bowl exceeded all expectations, becoming the second-most-watched Bowl in history. Then CBS funneled some Super Bowl viewership into its Monday night comedy block, giving its new series “Rules of Engagement” a strong premiere, setting a season high for “How I Met Your Mother” and edging out a “Heroes”-driven NBC for the night.
“Criminal Minds,” which received the coveted post-Bowl spot, didn’t retain as many football viewers as executives might have hoped, yet returned Wednesday night up 55 percent from its previous original airing.
Sweeps-to-date, CBS leads all networks with an 8.8 rating among adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen Media Research, followed by Fox (4.4), ABC (3.1) and NBC (2.9).
Typically, the Super Bowl is good for 0.2 of a rating point boost in the season-to-date race for the host network. CBS has gone up 0.3 thanks to the Bowl, from a 3.7 average to 4.0. Just as important, CBS went from leading the competition by 0.1 rating point to leading by 0.5.
Rob Yarin, VP of programming at Magid Associates, said the Bowl ratings are not so much a testament to CBS as to football itself.
“Football is still a touchdown for networks. It performed incredibly well all the way through the NFL playoffs,” Mr. Yarin said. “How much of a spillover effect it has is still a question. `Rules’ performed fairly well, especially for a comedy, which is a good sign.”
The Bowl performance puts CBS in the current front-runner position to win this month’s sweeps. The network still has to fend off Fox, however; its “American Idol” continues to perform like a mini-Super Bowl every week, boosting series such as “House,” “Bones” and “Prison Break.”
“House,” in particular, has been challenging the top-rated drama on television, out-delivering “Grey’s Anatomy” two weeks ago but being bested by “Grey’s” last week.
While week one of sweeps undoubtedly delivered good news for CBS, it was a bit frustrating for executives at former season-to-date front-runner ABC.
Sweeps started off great for the network, with “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Ugly Betty” earning their second-highest ratings of the season. Then came ABC’s early-week doldrums-fourth place on Monday and Tuesday. The story was supposed to change on Wednesday with the return of “Lost” after a much-discussed three-month hiatus. But the show scored a season-low rating.
Though few expected “Lost” to match its fall premiere, the episode received considerable promotion and favorable reviews. ABC noted that “Lost” was the second-highest-rated program for any regular-series telecast on any network in the 10 p.m. slot on any night this season.
Brad Adgate, senior VP of research for Horizon Media, said ABC should pick up some ratings later this month with the Feb. 25 broadcast of the Academy Awards, which tends to be the second-highest-rated special event after the Super Bowl in total viewers.
“The other thing ABC has going for it is `Dancing With the Stars’ coming back in March. That was the highest-rated show in households during fourth quarter,” he said.
All the CBS/Fox/ABC drama left NBC on the sidelines for the week, losing its usual Monday crown to CBS. Univision took fifth place among the broadcast networks, firmly beating The CW.
Just for kicks, if one removes the Super Bowl and sports from the sweeps-to-date equation, CBS is tied for first place with Fox, followed by ABC, then NBC.