NBC programming and sales executives may well have March 25
boldly circled on their calendars. That's the night when hit singing
competition series The Voice and highly successful freshman sci-fi
series Revolution each return from a lengthy hiatus. That day can't come
fast enough for NBC, which is currently receiving the lowest viewership and
18-49 demo ratings in its history.
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
"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
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
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."