On the final day of February sweeps last week, an “American Idol”-fueled Fox edged past “Super Bowl”-boosted CBS to declare victory in the coveted 18 to 49 demographic.
Fox finished the month with a 5.2 average rating, up 2 percent from last year. CBS earned a 5.0, up 43 percent thanks to the Super Bowl.
Last year, ABC hadthe Super Bowl and was the sweeps winner. This year it was third, down 28 percent to a 3.9.
NBC had the Olympics last year, one reason it was down 41 percent this year to a 2.9. Univision posted a 1.7, down 6 percent. The CW had 1.4, which is about even with UPN and up slightly from The WB.
Once again, CBS retained bragging rights in total viewers.
Fox’s head of scheduling, Preston Beckman, shrugged off the victory, citing the increasingly prevalent opinion that sweeps are irrelevant. Sweeps are based on the antiquated practice of periodically collecting Nielsen viewer diaries, particularly in smaller markets, but now Nielsen uses electronic ratings systems that constantly measure viewing habits.
“We don’t make a big deal out of it,” Mr. Beckman said. “What’s kind of gratifying is we’re competing against networks with the Super Bowl, Grammys and Academy Awards, and we still come out with some growth and two-tenths ahead. But we don’t plan for sweeps and we didn’t do anything special.”
Other networks contend that Fox’s February prime-time schedule-which was one-third “American Idol”-was inherently special and clearly planned to maximize rating heft. “Idol,” however, was only one factor in Fox’s success. “House” and “Prison Break” also performed strongly, although “24” started slipping during the month.
Not to mention the fifth-graders.
Debuting during the final lap of sweeps last week, Fox’s breakout quiz show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader” was the highest-rated Fox series premiere in 13 years and retained an unprecedented 93 percent of its “Idol” lead-in. Though its second airing slipped 13 percent, Fox quickly scheduled four additional episodes through April and almost certainly will order production of another batch.
Among the other networks, ABC continued to perform well on Thursdays, generally the most lucrative day of the week since marketers are willing to pay a premium to reach weekend consumers. The network won all four Thursday nights during the sweeps, the first time it has led that night in 15 years.
Fox’s domination is hitting NBC hardest. Since the start of the new year, NBC is down 14 percent compared with the fall season, more than any other major network. On Feb. 26, its Monday series premiere “The Black Donnellys” merely matched the season-to-date average of former time-period occupant “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”
Net Adults 18 to 49
Fox 5.2 (+2%)
CBS 5.0 (+43%)
ABC 3.9 (-28%)
NBC 2.9 (-41%)
CW 1.4 (N/C/+27%)
Ratings are for Feb. 1-28, 2007, compared with Feb. 2-March 1, 2006. Numbers in parentheses indicate percentage change. The CW is compared with UPN and The WB.
Source: Nielsen Media Research