While more media agencies are doing some deals based on 25-54 broadcast primetime ratings, the 18-49 demo is still the holy grail for marketers. And since primetime is watched by more women than men, women 18-49 viewers wield a little bit more influence when it comes to determining the fate of shows.
An examination of Nielsen ratings data shows that there is a significant correlation to broadcast shows' survival and their level of women 18-49 viewership.
Most recent case in point — ABC’s cancellation of drama Revenge after four seasons. Last season, Revenge averaged a 2.2 demo rating among women 18-49. This season it fell to 1.5.
A look at the cancellations of new broadcast network shows earlier in this current season also illustrates how most of those series never caught on with female 18-49 viewers. Those shows and their female 18-49 rating when they were taken off the air: Mulaney, Fox (0.7); Utopia, Fox (0.8); A to Z, NBC (1.0); Bad Judge, NBC (1.0); Constantine, NBC (1.0); Red Band Society, Fox (1.2); Manhattan Love Story, ABC (1.3); and Selfie, ABC (1.4).
To that list you can add new series that have struggled to get viewers this season and are longshots at being renewed like Weird Loners on Fox with a women 18-49 rating of 0.7; American Oddessey, NBC (0.8); The Slap, NBC (1.0); Allegience, NBC (1.0); Gracepoint, Fox (1.0); Backstrom, Fox (1.1); Forever, ABC (1.2); and Cristela, ABC (1.2).
Last season a bunch of new series that were cancelled also failed to draw significant women 18-49 viewers. Among them: Enlisted, Fox (0.7); Killer Women, ABC (0.9); Mind Games, ABC (0.9); Rake, Fox (1.0); Welcome to the Family, NBC (1.1); Lucky 7, ABC (1.1); Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, ABC (1.2); Dracula, NBC (1.2); Sean Saves the World, NBC (1.3); Surviving Jack, Fox (1.3); Trophy Wife, ABC (1.3); Ironside, NBC (1.4); Michael J. Fox Show, NBC (1.4); and Intelligence, CBS (1.4).
This season, much like Revenge, which took a precipitous drop in women 18-49 viewers, Fox’s The Following is also following in a similar path. Last season the Fox drama averaged a 1.8 rating among women 18-49. This season the demo rating is down to a 1.2. Once Fox’s most-watched drama, The Following doesn’t appear to have much of a future on the network.
To be fair to Revenge, last season it aired on Sunday night at 9, leading out of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, which has a solid women 18-49 demo rating of 2.7. So yes, lead-ins do matter.
The same can be said for CBS drama series NCIS: Los Angeles, which the network moved to a new night and time period this season. Last season NCIS: Los Angeles, leading out of NCIS, averaged a 2.4 in the women 18-49 demo. That was helped in large part by the NCIS women 18-49 demo rating of 2.7. This season, NCIS: Los Angeles is averaging a 1.8, even though its new lead-in Scorpion is averaging a 2.2 in the female demo.
Other broadcast primetime series that have taken big dips in their women 18-49 demo ratings this season are ABC dramas Resurrection and Castle, NBC’s About a Boy and Fox drama Sleepy Hollow.
Resurrection hit the ground running after premiering last spring and ended its first season averaging a 3.2 demo rating among women 18-49. However this season, before finishing its run, the series averaged just a 1.6 rating. Castle, which still has Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor as its lead-ins during different portions of the season, has dipped among women 18-49 from a 2.4 to a 1.9. About a Boy was leading out of NBC’s The Voice on Tuesday night last season and averaged a 2.5 among women 18-49. This season without The Voice lead-in, About a Boy fell to a 1.3 rating in the female demo. Sleepy Hollow was considered to be a freshman series hit for Fox last season and averaged a 2.2 in the women 18-49 demo, but this season it fell to a 1.4.
So what are the most-watched new series this season in broadcast primetime among women 18-49? They are also among the most-watched TV series among all primetime shows. Fox’s Empire, which just completed its limited first season run, averaged a non-sports-programming, broadcast-leading 6.3 rating among women 18-49. How to Get Away with Murder on ABC, which also just completed its first season, averaged a 3.4 rating in the demo and that was seventh best among all broadcast entertainment shows. ABC sitcom Black-ish is averaging a 2.7 rating in the female demo, CBS sitcom The Odd Couple is averaging a 2.6, CBS drama Scorpion a 2.2 and ABC drama Secrets and Lies, a 2.0.
What those numbers show is that if women 18-49 are watching in large numbers, a new show has a solid chance to not only succeed, but to be among the most viewed shows on television. If not, that show's chances are greatly diminished.
Among all primetime shows, dramas and comedies, this season, in second place behind Empire among women 18-49 is ABC’s Scandal, which is averaging a 4.5 in the demo. Next is CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory (4.2); the Monday edition of The Voice (4.1) and Tuesday edition of The Voice (3.9); ABC’s The Bachelor (3.5); ABC drama Grey’s Anatomy (3.5); ABC sitcom Modern Family (3.4); ABC’s Dancing with the Stars (2.9); and ABC drama Once Upon a Time (2.9), which actually increased its rating in the female demo this season.
Other dramas that draw well among the women 18-49 demo include Criminal Minds on CBS (2.7); NBC’s The Blacklist (2.6); and CBS’s NCIS and NCIS: New Orleans (both with a 2.4). NBC drama Chicago Fire is averaging a 2.1 in the demo.
Also pulling in a sizable women 18-49 audience is CBS reality series Survivor, which is averaging a 2.6 demo rating.
On the comedy side, other Top 10 shows among women 18-49 include ABC sitcom The Goldbergs (2.5); CBS comedy Two and a Half Men (2.4), which recently aired its series finale; ABC comedy The Middle (2.4); and CBS comedies Mike & Molly and 2 Broke Girls (both 2.3). The Goldbergs is up considerably among women 18-49, after averaging a 1.7 rating last season. Part of that is because it is leading out of female skewing The Middle this season, while last year ABC scheduled it leading out of male-skewing drama Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
No other broadcast comedies are averaging a 2.0 or higher in the women 18-49 demo. Just missing is ABC freshman comedy Fresh Off the Boat (1.9) and NBC sitcom Undateable (1.8).
As the broadcast networks put together their schedules for the 2015-16 season, they would do well to keep in mind the influence that women TV viewers in the 18-49 demo still wield in determining which shows will succeed or fail.
And it’s not just as simple as putting on stereotypical shows thought to appeal to women like romantic comedies. ABC tried that with Manhattan Love Story and NBC tried it with A to Z and it didn’t work out so well. But ABC also has three Shonda Rhimes series on the air, including this year’s freshman hit How To Get Away with Murder, and she seems to know how to put together series that draw lots of 18-49-year-old women.
The singing and dancing competition series mostly seem to do better among women 18-49 but when they stop watching, a show can go downhill fast. American Idol, which is bleeding viewers in all demos again this season, is an example of that. Last season Idol averaged a 3.7 in the female demo on Wednesday nights and a 3.4 on Thursday nights. This season it has fallen to a 2.7 on Wednesday night and a 2.8 on Thursday.
Then there’s primetime NFL games. NBC’s Sunday Night Football this season averaged a 5.0 rating among women 18-49, down from a 5.4 last season, but still a solid number. On CBS during its first season of Thursday Night Football, the network’s NFL game telecasts averaged a 3.8 among women 18-49. One reason it may have been significantly lower than the Sunday night female rating in the demo, however, is that the telecasts were competing for women viewers with ABC dramas Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, which are three of the most-watched shows by women in the demo.
The broadcast network upfront presentations are just a little over a week away. It will be interesting to see how many new shows they put on their schedules that can capture 18-49 year-old women. Or whether they once again put on a bunch of new shows that this female demo shuns, leading to more early cancellations.