Ad Execs Wonder How NBC Will Fill Looming 10 P.M. Hole
Madison Avenue might be happy that NBC is making a switch at 10 p.m., but many ad executives are concerned that NBC has little on the shelf to replace Jay Leno should he return to darker day parts when his primetime show ends Feb. 12.
“My fear is that it’s not almost impossible–it is impossible to replace that many hours,” one agency chief told ADverse. “They never built a back stock of content in case this thing failed. You can’t just replace five hours in a shot. And they have so many other problems to contend with.”
NBC has said it is looking at using its Dateline news documentary franchise to fill at least some of the holes and possibly moving Law and Order: SVU back to a 10 p.m. slot.
David Scardino, entertainment specialist at Santa Monica, Calif.-based RPA, says NBC has a couple of other options, including three just-announced pilots, four or five further pilots on order and a movie of the week. But he thinks NBC will have a short term problem to contend with.
“NBC will definitely take some hits, and the first results could be disappointing even if the replacement programming is high quality since the audience is going to be mighty confused and may take longer to find it.”
One agency executive recalls a parallel at ABC at the other end of the decade, when the alphabet opted to strip “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” across the week and filled the rest of its problem slots with news magazines.
RPA’s Scardino also projects that once Leno’s back in his former time slot it will rate below his previous Tonight Show levels. “It would seem at least some of his audience has moved to Letterman and Nightline so getting them back would take a while,” he said.
Meanwhile, Leno’s commercial ratings look just as bad as his program ratings. RPA data shows that The Jay Leno Show averaged 2.1 million viewers in the 18-49 year old demographic for the period between September 14 and December 13. Total viewers over the same period were 5.3 million. In the year ago period, NBC averaged 3.1 million in the 18-49 year old demographic and 6.56 million, a 32% drop-off, which Scardino points out is actually a little better than his projected performance.
Had NBC left Leno on the air in his 10 p.m., Scardino observes he would have had to grow his adult audiences by 50% to just equal what the network delivers to its local affiliates as their lead-in to the news. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that would be a Sisyphean task for anyone.