Bright Side of Dark Days

Less daylight helps syndie

While TV viewers dread the arrival of shorter, colder, darker days, TV distributors herald the end of Daylight Saving Time like kids greeting Christmas morning. That's because darker days mean bigger TV ratings, particularly among shows that air in access time slots such as off-net sitcoms, entertainment magazines and game shows.

Many syndication company heads say it's vital to wait until at least November to see whether new shows are gaining traction. (This year, Daylight Saving Time ends on Sunday, Nov. 2.)

“With Two and a Half Men, once Daylight Saving Time [ended], it was a monster,” says Ken Werner, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution.

That's true. Last September, Two and a Half Men and Twentieth's Family Guy premiered at a 3.3 and 3.6 live-plus-same-day household rating, averaged over the month of September, Nielsen says.

But by November, those numbers had improved to a 4.7 for Two and a Half Men, a 42% increase, and a 4.4 for Family Guy, a 22% increase. By February, Two and a Half Men had jumped another 17% to a 5.5, and Family Guy had improved another 5% to a 4.6. Compared with September, each show had gained 67% and 28%, respectively.

And that wasn't just true for the two new off-net sitcom entries. Veterans increased, too. Sony's Seinfeld, now in its 13th year of syndication, and King of Queens, in its fifth year, gained 11% and 7%, respectively, in November compared with September, and 19% and 14% in February compared with September.

Even CBS' Everybody Loves Raymond, which saw big ratings drops last year after losing many prime access slots across the country in favor of Two and a Half Men, gained once the weather turned cold and dark. Raymond opened last season with a 3.9 live-plus-same-day household average in September, and gained 3% to a 4.0 by February.

Werner hopes to see that same sort of improvement with this year's new shows: The Bonnie Hunt Show and Judge Jeanine Pirro, which airs on The CW, even though daytime shows don't see the same gain from Daylight Saving Time as access shows do.

“I would say that it will take six months to really get an idea of where the audience is, but after the first eight weeks I want to know if I'm beginning to hold my lead-in and are we starting to build an audience as word of mouth gets out there,” Werner says.

Another new show that should benefit from darker days is NBC Universal's Deal or No Deal, which is this year's top-rated rookie and airs in access and prime slots on many stations.

Last season, all four veteran game shows improved from September to February. CBS's top-rated game, Wheel of Fortune, opened at a 6.7 and by November had climbed to an 8.1, a 21% increase. In second place, CBS's Jeopardy! debuted at a 5.6 and by November had gained 20%, to a 6.7. Disney-ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire jumped 7% from September to November, increasing to a 3.0 from a 2.8, and Debmar-Mercury's Family Feud gained 12%, moving from a 1.7 to a 1.9.

Finally, entertainment magazines, whose ratings are largely event-driven, also get a cold-weather bump.

CBS's leader, Entertainment Tonight, gained 20% between September and November, climbing to a 5.3 from a 4.4. CBS's Inside Edition, in second place, jumped to a 3.7 from a 3.1, a 19% improvement. NBC Universal's Access Hollywood and CBS's The Insider, in lockstep, both gained 13% to a 2.6 from a 2.3 and Warner Bros.' Extra improved 6% to a 1.9 from a 1.8.

Warner Bros.' TMZ also got a huge boost from daylight saving. The rookie opened last year at a 1.9 average. By November, it had improved 5% to a 2.0, and by February it had picked up another 21% to a 2.3. Now TMZ is frequently the third-highest-rated entertainment magazine, behind ET and Inside Edition.