Freshman Series Development Headaches Continue for Broadcast Networks
By John Consoli -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/8/2013 1:17:43 PM
Fox's serialized police drama The Following could be a lone exception, but the jury is still out there as well.
After premiering three weeks ago with 10.4 million viewers and a 3.2 18-49 demo rating, and following that up the next week with 10.1 million viewers and a 3.3 18-49 rating, the series took a 10% drop in viewers and a 12% dip in its demo rating in the third week. The percentages of decline are typical, but what could be a bad harbinger is that they came in the third week, not the second week; audiences traditionally fall off from the premiere.
If viewers who stuck with the series the first two weeks lost interest by the third, and if no new viewers come in (which would not be unusual in a serialized show), then The Following could be headed for troubles. This coming Monday will offer a better picture of the show's viewing pattern.
Still, The Following at least gives Fox something to brag about, given that every one of its other new series was either pulled or is doing so poorly that its survival beyond this season seems highly unlikely.
The same cannot be said for NBC, which, other than the successful premiere of new sci-fi series Revolution, has also had a very bad season with its freshman fall premieres, and an even worse time with its midseason new show premieres.
Of its three midseason freshman shows, drama Deception is averaging four million viewers and a 1.4 18-49 rating, sitcom 1600 Penn is averaging 3.4 million viewers and a 1.4 demo rating and drama Do No Harm, which premiered last Thursday, holds the unfortunate distinction of drawing the lowest in-season broadcast scripted series premiere rating in TV history among the Big Four networks. Do No Harm had only 3.1 million viewers and a 0.9 18-49 rating.
"I think viewers connected more with last season's crop of first-year broadcast network shows than they have this season," says Brad Adgate, senior VP, research, at Horizon Media. "Going forward, you just have to wonder if the networks can continue to have such weak development seasons. There was an emphasis by the networks to develop more comedies but the laughs have been few and far between with these."
Billie Gold, VP, director of buying/program research at media agency Carat, adds, "I think this year's crop of new shows have been disappointing. This was definitely a weak season in terms of breakout shows for the broadcast networks. With the exception of NBC's Revolution and perhaps CBS' Elementary, most new shows are surviving at best."
And NBC might have made a major tactical mistake by putting Revolution on hiatus for more than three months. Similar tactics with sci-fi series in the past by broadcast networks have doomed them when viewers failed to return when the shows came back on the air after such long absences. But again, time will tell. Revolution is not due back until March 25.
Gold doesn't see much left in new broadcast series possibilities for the remainder of the season. "Red Widow from ABC, which the network will premiere leading out of Revenge at 10 p.m. on Sunday nights, could have some potential," Gold says. "It seems like a great fit with Revenge as its lead-in. But other than that, this year's crop of midseason shows, with the exception of The Following, has been dismal."
NBC seemed to be riding high in primetime during the first portion of the new season with NFL Sunday Night Football and two editions of singing competition hit The Voice putting the network far ahead in the 18-49 demo race. But since the regular football season ended and The Voice went on hiatus, NBC has fallen into last place among the Big Four broadcast networks in the 18-49 demo. In fact, last week, the network averaged a cumulative 1.2 rating in the demo for all of its shows, placing it not only in fourth place, but also breaking its record for lowest weekly rating in the demo ever, according to Gold.
What a Difference a Year Makes
Last season, there were a handful of strong freshman scripted series that continue to do well this year, although there were a large number of dogs as well.
In its freshman year, CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls averaged 9.8 million viewers and a 3.7 18-49 rating for the season, and this year so far it is averaging an identical 9.8 million viewers and a 3.4 demo rating. CBS drama Person of Interest averaged 12.1 million viewers and a 2.6 18-49 rating last season and this year is posting an even better 13.6 million viewers and a 2.7 demo rating. And ABC drama Once Upon a Time averaged 9.4 million viewers last season and a 3.1 18-49 rating; this season it's averaging a similar 9.4 million and a 3.2 demo rating. All three of those series hit the ground running last season and kept on drawing viewers all season.
ABC drama Revenge averaged only 5.3 million viewers on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. last season, but averaged a better 2.4 18-49 rating and is now thriving in its new Sunday 9 p.m. time period where it is averaging 7.7 million viewers and a 2.5 18-49 number.
And, of course, in the non-scripted genre last year, Fox's freshman singing competition series The X Factor averaged 11.3 and a 3.8 18-49 rating across two nights, but the series has bled viewers this season, averaging only 8.4 million and a 2.9 demo rating across two nights. The same can be said for NBC musical drama Smash, which last year in its freshman season led out of The Voice and averaged 6.7 million viewers and a 2.3 18-49 rating. But this week, in its second season premiere, it drew only 4.5 million viewers and a paltry 1.2 18-49 rating.
Needless to say, the broadcast networks are all in make-good situations with advertisers, many of whom already collected on those make-goods back in December during the holiday season.
According to Nielsen primetime ratings season-to-date through Feb. 3 in the 18-49 demo, which includes the Super Bowl ratings, CBS is now the leader with a 3.2, up 3% from last season's 3.1; NBC is now in second, but more telling, lost its big percentage gains over last season and is now flat at 2.8; Fox is in third with a 2.5, down 24% from a 3.3; ABC is fourth with a 2.2, down 12% from a 2.5; and the CW is at 0.7, down 13% from a 0.6.
The millennial-skewing CW has had a freshman hit series this season in Arrow, which is averaging 3.1 million viewers and a 1.0 18-49 rating and is the network's most-watched show. But it has also had some freshman failures in Emily Owens, M.D., which skewed way old for the CW with a median age well over 50, and the recent midseason addition, The Carrie Diaries, which never really got out of the gate. Emily Owens, M.D. only averaged 1.2 million viewers and a 0.4 18-49 rating, while The Carrie Diaries has averaged only 1.4 million viewers and a 0.6 18-49 rating.
CBS freshman drama Vegas has been the most-watched new series, averaging 10.7 million viewers, making it the fifth most-watched drama on television, but it skews older and is averaging only a 1.7 18-49 rating. The aforementioned CBS freshman drama Elementary is averaging 10 million viewers and a 2.1 18-49 rating, but does better among women with a 2.4 in the female 18-49 demo.
Other than Vegas, The Following, Elementary and Revolution, no new series has averaged more than six million viewers. The cancelled CBS drama Made in Jersey was averaging 7.3 million viewers when it was axed, but it was also only drawing a 0.95 18-49 rating.
CBS, which continues to have the most stabile schedule among the broadcast networks, also pulled new sitcom Partners which was only averaging 5.8 million viewers in its popular Monday night comedy block, but it was also averaging a 2.0 18-49 demo rating, one of only six freshman series this season to accomplish that out of more than 25.
The most recent C3 (live-plus-three-day commercial viewing) ratings, on which upfront ad buys are based (and which include numbers only through the first week of January), show that NBC is still the 18-49 leader. That, however, was just a week after Sunday Night Football went off the air, and a few weeks after The Voice finale, and prior to its January midseason failures.
Through Jan. 6, NBC was averaging a 3.1 18-49 C3 rating, up 14.8%; CBS and Fox were both averaging 2.1, each down 19.2%; ABC was averaging a 2.0, down 9.1%; and The CW was averaging a 0.5, down 9.2%.
The Waiting Is the Hardest Part
There's still about three more months of the current broadcast network season left, but without any new series to replace the freshman shows already cancelled, or the ones dying on the vine, it's going to be hard for the networks to make any type of significant gains in their C3 ratings.
With the entire Fox schedule bleeding viewers, including its one-time reliable staple American Idol, it's going to be hard to catch CBS for the 18-49 demo title this season, now that the Eye Network has taken over the lead with the Super Bowl ratings added in.
CBS still has the most top-drawing series on television in the 18-49 demo. Among them: The Big Bang Theory, at 4.9; Two and a Half Men, 3.6; NCIS, 3.4; 2 Broke Girls, 3.4; How I Met Your Mother, 3.1; NCIS: Los Angeles, 2.9; Person of Interest, 2.7; and, yes, the older-skewing 60 Minutes, at a 2.5. If these shows continue to draw those types of 18-49 ratings over the remainder of the season, and if the return of Survivor proves solid, CBS will win the 18-49 demo.
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