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WGA Strike Makes Comparisons Tricky

Jan 11, 2009  •  Post A Comment

There’s a flood of new television programming poised to hit prime-time broadcast television this month compared to last year’s paltry, strike-reduced menu. But advertising buyers say they won’t be fooled by broadcast ratings that look comparatively good—or cable numbers that look bad.
The strike-scarred 2008 midseason sent many broadcast series into repeats, pushing viewers away, with cable networks that were airing fresh, original content the beneficiaries in many cases.
While buyers need benchmarks to determine how well their buys work out, they’re finding new ways to put their thumbs on the scale to account for the strike year.
“Under normal circumstances, the ratings trends would suggest that if everything went well for broadcast they would deliver numbers close to last year’s strike-impaired numbers, and cable the same for the quarter,” said Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer at Turner Broadcasting.
“You can’t not do a comparison. They still aired programming,” Shari Anne Brill, senior VP of programming and research at media agency Carat, said of the broadcast networks. “But it would be artificial to say that these networks have grown.”
What really counts as far as advertisers are concerned is whether network ratings measure up to the pre-season estimates and the guarantees provided by the networks.
The strike made generating those estimates more difficult last year. Ms. Brill said that for returning shows, she simply ignored the first-quarter ratings, when little original scripted programming aired, and instead doubled the ratings from the fourth quarter.
Estimating audiences for new shows was complicated by the lack of pilots for many series, she said.
And after estimates were made, they had to be translated into the new commercial ratings—C3—being used for buying ad time. That measure didn’t exist two years ago, making tracking difficult.
With original episodes of their favorite broadcast shows unavailable, many viewers turned to cable last year. Henry Schleiff, CEO of Crown Media, last year said the strike contributed to Hallmark Channel’s growing ratings.
Even with the broadcast networks back at full strength, Mr. Schleiff expects Hallmark to build on its gains.
“I think our success and growth is due not only to the absence of well-written long-form product on the broadcast side,” he said, arguing that Hallmark’s brand of programming that the whole family can safely watch together is a good match for the insecure economic climate.
Finding good news in tough times, Mr. Schleiff noted more viewers are likely to choose low-cost television entertainment rather than buying movie tickets during the first quarter.
Hallmark’s ratings were up in December, when the broadcasters had original programming and Hallmark had holiday specials, and in January the network aired the second-highest-rated non-holiday movie in its history.
Cable executives who traffic in edgier fare also think cable can withstand the flood of broadcast programs.
“I think even in this environment that basic cable can continue to show growth, because it represents an excellent value for advertisers,” said FX Networks President-General Manager John Landgraf.
With reporting by Josef Adalian and Sergio Ibarra

2 Comments

  1. Way to focus and straight to your point, i love it. Keep up the work people. Dont let anyone stop us bloggers.

  2. what a waste of money for all of these!

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