NBC's Ratings Redemption Could Begin on March 25
By John Consoli -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/15/2013 2:07:07 PM
Last week, NBC averaged 3.5 million viewers per night and a 1.1 18-49 rating to not only finish in fourth place among the Big Four English-language networks, but to also lag behind Spanish-language broadcaster Univision in both viewership and the advertiser-desired demo. Univision averaged 4.3 million viewers a night and a 1.8 18-49 rating, finishing third in the demo behind Fox and CBS.
Not only have NBC's ratings been dismal, but some of the decisions made by programming execs have media buyers scratching their heads. For example, why pull Revolution off the air for several months when it was off to such a solid start? Why bring back drama Smash, which last season had success mainly because it aired out of The Voice, without a solid lead-in this time? Why bring back sci-fi drama Grimm on Friday nights for its midseason return and pairing it with Fashion Star, a totally incompatible lead-in?
"I think it was a big mistake to take Revolution off the air," says Billie Gold, VP and director of buying/programming research at Carat. "Even if that was their plan going in, they should have realized that their other shows weren't working and they needed to keep it on for both ratings and to use as a possible launch pad for some of its other new shows."
Smash was virtually DOA in its premiere a few weeks ago and last week fell to 2.7 million viewers and a 0.8 18-49 rating. Grimm pulled in 4.9 million viewers and a 1.5 18-49 rating, but imagine how much better it might have done if it didn't lead out of an older, female-skewing Fashion Star that drew only three million viewers and a 0.8 18-49 rating.
NBC brass is now moving Smash from its Tuesday at 10 p.m. time period to Saturday nights, TV's lowest viewing night, instead of keeping it on Tuesday night when it could again lead-out of The Voice in two weeks.
Meanwhile, Gold is skeptical that Revolution, which was averaging eight million viewers and a 3.0 18-49 rating when it went on hiatus, will return and do better sustained numbers than those averages. "The only time series go on hiatus and come back with larger ratings is on cable," she says. "On broadcast, many viewers start watching other shows in the time period and when the series returns they have lost interest and just don't go back."
Brad Adgate, senior VP and director of research at Horizon Media, agrees that "in hindsight" the decision to put Revolution on hiatus was not a good one, but he adds that NBC has had so many replacement shows that didn't perform.
"What was surprising was how many of these new shows that they put on the air over the past few months have underperformed," Adgate says. "However, ABC always had trouble with midseason shows doing well on Monday nights once Monday Night Football went off the air, so it shouldn't be surprising that NBC is not doing well on Sunday nights since its Sunday night NFL telecasts ended in late December."
Both Gold and Adgate believe NBC was too reliant on The Voice in the fourth quarter and should have anticipated a sharp fall-off in viewership once the series went on hiatus. Competition series like that usually bring in lots of viewers who are not necessarily regular viewers of a network and when the series ends, they may tune in to other networks.
Regarding Grimm, Adgate says a case could be made that the network "mishandled" it by returning it to Friday nights. "Perhaps moving Grimm to Sunday night after football ended would have been a better option," he says.
But as bad as the ratings numbers look right now, NBC may still be able to salvage a season where it does not end up owing a mass amount of make-goods. Media agencies buy packages of shows and if many of those packages contained The Voice and Revolution, along with Sunday Night Football, they may have even over delivered in fourth quarter. And while they are taking a ratings hit in first quarter, the return of those two shows, particularly The Voice on two nights-where it will again most likely average around 12 million viewers each night and an 18-49 rating above a 4.0-will quickly begin boosting NBC's numbers.
Season to date, CBS, helped by the Super Bowl, is the 18-49 ratings leader with a 3.1, followed by an American Idol-fueled Fox with a 2.6. NBC right now is in third with a 2.5, followed by ABC with a 2.3. It's likely that a boost by The Voice will keep NBC ahead of ABC for third place in the demo, but Adgate doesn't think NBC will be able to catch Fox. "It's possible ABC could catch NBC for third place, but ABC hasn't been having a compelling season either, so my guess is that NBC will finish third with ABC a close fourth, similar to last season," he says.
A third-place finish in the 18-49 demo race would have to be a disappointment to NBC after such a solid fourth quarter which had the network well ahead of everyone in the demo, and many of the media outlets proclaiming, without looking beneath the surface ratings, that NBC had turned around its ratings troubles from the past few seasons.
Media agency execs have always had the mantra that a network is just one or two hits away from turning its fortunes around. NBC seemingly has very little else working for it other than the return of The Voice and Revolution, and maybe a marginal following for other freshman drama Chicago Fire. But the network does have 30 pilots in the works, according to Adgate, including 17 sitcoms and 13 dramas, which is the most of any of the Big Four broadcast networks. Clearly, NBC is making the effort.
"The best thing for NBC next year is the Sochi Olympics, when during the February sweeps they will go from fourth place like they were this year to first place next year," Adgate says. "They have ordered more pilots than any other network, Revolution and Chicago Fire will be back, and they can build on that."
Adgate acknowledges that NBC's comedy stable is running dry, and shows like the departing 30 Rock and The Office need to be replaced, but he adds optimistically, "The more pilots you order, the better chance you will find a new hit show."
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