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Freshman Series Development Headaches Continue for Broadcast Networks

2/08/2013 01:17:43 PM Eastern

The broadcast networks' weak season for new shows has not
gotten much help from its midseason entries so far, and media agency execs don't
anticipate any breakout hits coming between now and the end of the season.

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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