Broadcast Premiere Week Approaches, But Season-Long Ratings Are What Matter to Advertisers
By John Consoli -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/27/2012 1:59:33 PM
While viewership dropped off by about 8 million for the second episode, and the series' 18-49 demo rating fell from a 10.7 to a 7.4, advertisers in the first handful of episodes still got a windfall of viewers who normally don't watch the show. However, viewers defected little by little, and at the end of the season, Men was averaging 13.5 million viewers and a 4.4 18-49 demo rating -- still a solid number, but one that was on a continuous downturn as the season ended. That's why CBS, in an attempt to revive those 2011 premiere week ratings, decided to move the series to Thursday nights this season, leading out of its No. 1 sitcom, The Big Bang Theory.
Benefitting from last fall's extraordinary viewership of the Two and a Half Men premiere was the CBS freshman sitcom 2 Broke Girls, which led out of it at 9:30 p.m. and pulled in 19.3 million viewers and a 7.1 18-49 rating. 2 Broke Girls later moved to 8:30 p.m., leading into Men, and had an excellent first season, averaging 11.7 million viewers and a 4.6 18-49 rating.
Looking at the new series that will premiere on the broadcast networks, none jumps out as a show that would pull in a mega-number of viewers during its first week. And without all the fanfare surrounding Men, it appears CBS' veteran drama NCIS or ABC's Dancing With the Stars will be the most-watched premiere, unless either is topped by viewer interest in The X Factor, which recently added Britney Spears and Demi Lovato to its judges panel.
A strong premiere of a new or returning series does not always indicate that it will be a season-long success. A series that starts off slowly, however, is probably doomed, unless a network really wants to keep it on the air.
"I think the success of a hit show is dependent upon its ability to sustain or even grow ratings in the upcoming weeks or years," says Brad Adgate, senior VP and director of research, Horizon Media. "So to me, the sixth week is more important than the first week. And the third year is as important as the first year."
Advertisers whose media agencies bought into last fall's new ABC drama Pan Am were probably patting themselves on the back after the series premiered with 11 million viewers and a 3.1 18-49 rating. However, the series lost 3.3 million viewers in its second week. By the third week, it pulled in only 6.3 million viewers and a 1.9 18-49 rating on Sunday, typically a high TV-viewing night. The series was eventually cancelled.
Fox's sci-fi series Terra Nova was one of the most promoted and hyped new series last season. It premiered with 9.2 million viewers and a 3.1 18-49 rating. By the end of its first-season run, it was averaging 7.6 million viewers and a 2.5 rating, not far off from its premiere. However, the series' expensive production outweighed its ratings, and the network could not pull in enough ad bucks. The series was cancelled.
With some premieres, it is obvious from the outset that the series will not last. NBC's The Playboy Club received plenty of negative publicity, with conservative organizations' calls for a boycott and an NBC affiliate refusing to air the show. The series premiered to only 5 million viewers and a 1.6 18-49 rating, falling to 3.9 million and a 1.3 demo rating the following week. By the third week, it was down to 3.4 million and a 1.2 rating. Soon after, it was cancelled.
Some new series can also be surprises to advertisers and even the networks. ABC's drama Once Upon a Time premiered with 12.9 million viewers and a 4.0 18-49 rating. It ended the season averaging 9.4 million viewers and a 2.9 demo rating, making it one of the top new series of the season and the top-rated new drama in the 18-49 demo.
Some veteran series open solid in their season premieres, do well the first few weeks, and then start a steady decline. One example is Fox's Glee. Last season, the musical comedy premiered with 9.2 million viewers and a 4.0 18-49 rating. It fell to 8.5 million viewers and a 3.7 rating the second week, which is not out of the norm. However, as the season went on, viewers defected. At the end of the season, it averaged 6.6 million viewers and a 2.7 18-49 rating. Fox, in an attempt to revive interest in the series, has moved it to Thursdays at 9 p.m. leading out of The X Factor this fall.
Fox's much-hyped new sitcom last season New Girl still finished with a solid 2.9 season average 18-49 demo rating vs. a 4.0 for its premiere episode, but the series drew 10.2 million viewers for its premiere and averaged only 6 million viewers for the season. Still, in advertisers' minds, the 18-49 rating is king, so New Girl was a hit.
Popular series usually open strong, and while they lose some audience over the course of the season, end with solid viewership.
ABC's Dancing With the Stars premiered with Monday viewership of 19 million and a 4.0 demo rating, ending the season averaging 17.2 million and a 3.1 rating. On Tuesdays, it premiered with 14.7 million viewers and a 2.9 demo rating and wound up averaging 15.4 million viewers and a 2.9 rating.
CBS drama NCIS was the most-watched scripted series on television last season. It premiered to 19.9 million viewers and a 4.3 18-49 rating and ended the season averaging 17.3 million viewers and a 3.3 demo rating. Other veteran CBS series performed solidly throughout the season following strong season premieres. NCIS: Los Angles premiered last fall to 16.7 million viewers and a 3.6 18-49 rating, and averaged 14.2 and 2.8 for the season. Criminal Minds premiered to 14.1 million viewers and a 4.1 demo rating, and averaged 11.1 million and 2.9. Person of Interest premiered to 13.3 million viewers and a 3.1 demo rating, and averaged 12.1 million viewers and 2.6.
Strong lead-ins during premiere week can help a series get off to a good start, but then it's up to the lead-out series to make sure viewers continue to tune in, much like 2 Broke Girls did on CBS. ABC police drama Castle drew 13.2 million viewers and a 3.2 18-49 rating leading out of DWTS last premiere week, and it continued to draw a large audience leading out of the dance competition series all season. Castle ended last season averaging 9.7 million viewers, although its 2.1 18-49 rating could have been better.
The bottom line with fall's series premieres is that most will get good viewership in their first episodes. While many of the new series will not be able to hold, or even come close to, their premiere numbers, the networks often decide to renew those series. Sometimes they see a longer-term potential; other times, they are series in which advertisers like to be involved because of the shows' storylines or environment.
ABC freshman sitcom Suburgatory premiered with 9.8 million viewers and a 3.3 18-49 rating. For the season, it averaged 6.4 million viewers and a 2.2 demo rating, falling significantly from its premiere. ABC freshman drama Revenge premiered with 10 million viewers and a 3.3 18-49 rating, but averaged only 6.9 million viewers and a 2.1 for the season. ABC brought both series back for the coming season.
One series advertisers like is the ratings-challenged NBC drama Parenthood. The veteran series premiered last fall with 6.2 million viewers and a 2.2 18-49 rating and for the season, averaged only 4.7 million viewers and a 1.8 rating in the 18-49 demo. But NBC brought it back.
As the new and returning series begin rolling out next month, it is always interesting to see which shows the most viewers are tuning into. But in reality, it usually doesn't determine whether those series will continue to stay on the schedule. And a "hit" show during premiere week could be a show that, by midseason, ends up cancelled.
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