Thursday-night slug fest

CBS' Survivor was the most-watched show, but NBC held its own with smart promotion

CBS won the headline bout of the big Thursday showdown. But in pitting its biggest guns, Survivor: The Australian Outback
and C.S.I.,
against NBC's Must-See lineup, highlighted by a beefed-up Friends, CBS could claim victory in round one.

One thing can be said: CBS can boast the most watched program of the night with Survivor
(29.4 million viewers). Yet NBC's best, ER
(26.7 million), was not that far behind. Friends/Saturday Night Live
grabbed 21.1 million.

trumped all in adults 18-49 (13.5/35). But Survivor
(12.0/29) topped NBC's Friends/SNL
one-two punch (10.5/25) in this catch-all 18-49 bracket. Friends
by itself nabbed a 10.8/25. Also promising for CBS, C.S.I.
posted record ratings highs in its new post-Survivor
home, beating NBC's normally potent mix of Will & Grace
and Just Shoot Me
in total viewers (22.0 million vs. 18.9 million). But then again Will & Grace
and Just Shoot Me
edged out C.S.I.
in terms of adults 18-49 (10.5/24 vs. 8.4/19).

In preliminary ratings, NBC led in total viewers (22.2 million) over CBS (20.8 million). CBS was keeping its executives away from the media Friday morning, but its PR department was seemingly grinding out a new laudatory e-mail every hour.

Meanwhile at NBC, West Coast President Scott Sassa liked his team's efforts. "Year over year, for the first Thursday of the [February] sweep, we improved 6% in demos, and CBS also had a great night, so it's a really good day for network television," he said Friday morning. "But basically, we still had a good night, and, in fact, on a demo basis, we outrated both ABC and CBS combined."

may have taken a little bite out of Friends. But Survivor
is mostly drawing from the other networks and cable and getting people who don't normally watch anything on Thursdays," says TN Media analyst Steve Sternbeg. " Survivor
has a chance to beat Friends
without substantially hurting Friends' core audience. Friends'
audience is Friends'
audience," he explains. "You're just going to see more people watching television between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m."

But, Sternberg adds, "CBS has done better than they ever had in getting a foothold on Thursdays." In the case of Survivor, insiders said that certain sponsors-Reebok, Anheuser-Busch, Dr. Scholl and Target stores-have committed $12 million each for comprehensive promotional packages. Most Survivor
time has already been filled by those advertisers, but there are spots available for every episode for other advertisers.

Breaking out one 30-second spot within a non-premiere, non-finale Survivor
episode, ad sources say, it probably averages a not-so-bad $350,000. But these packages guarantee exclusivity to each involved company. So every Thursday, "you won't see another beer besides Anheuser-Busch," says Paul Schulman, who heads up advertising representative firm Schulman/Advanswers NY. "There isn't going to be another sneaker besides Reebok."

For companies to make friends with Friends, in contrast, it costs them about $500,000 to $700,000 per 30-second spot. Friends
isn't out looking for sponsors to commit to its whole season, so companies aren't required to grab spots over multiple episodes.

Another difference, explains an ad executive close to the negotiations, is that Survivor
advertisers, as part of their agreement with CBS, "technically" can't ask for make-goods, or network-given compensation to advertisers when shows fail to deliver. NBC, on the other hand, typically offers the make-good option with any of its programs.

Yet, in the long run, few think NBC and its advertisers can avoid getting at least slightly slammed by Survivor. Thursday nights are especially profitable for networks, particularly NBC, since film studios pay rates 20% to 25% higher to advertise new movies just before their weekend debuts. If CBS grabs some of that action, it will show up quickly on the bottom line.

Regardless, says Paul Lazarus, ad buyer for TN Media, "super-sizing Friends
was a nice promotional approach. NBC is not rolling over anybody. I give them credit for really re-attacking the situation."