CBS Posting Strong Sweeps Growth

Midway through the May sweeps, CBS has a commanding lead in households, while NBC is leading the adults 18-49 demo race, and Fox is ahead in adults 18-34. The last two weeks of the sweeps, which also bring the current TV season to a close, will prove vital in determining the winners of the household and 18-49 demo battles for the season.

Through May 9, season-to-date, CBS is leading in households with an 8.6/14 rating, according to Nielsen Media Research, followed by ABC with an 8.4/14. NBC, with two Wednesday and Thursday nights left in the sweeps (the net’s strongest nights of the week), seems too far back, at a 7.9/13, to win the season in households and appears doomed for a third-place finish for the second straight year.

The fight for adults 18-49 is also going to be determined by the final two weeks of the season, with NBC now at a 4.7/13, closely followed by ABC and Fox, both with 4.5/12. With its Wednesday-Thursday combo, NBC should prevail, but ABC has a miniseries, Anne Frank (May 20-21), which could cut the gap.

CBS, the sweeps’ households leader so far with a 9.4/16 (up 19 percent over this time last year), has generated double-digit increases in all demos during the sweeps. That’s primarily because of Survivor: The Australian Outback and freshman hit CSI: Crime Scene Investigations (neither was on the schedule last May). CBS is up 33 percent in adults 18-49 for the sweeps, to a 4.3/12.

National ratings for syndication were available for only the first two days of the May sweeps (April 26-27), and already they don’t paint a pretty picture. But if levels for the week of April 23-29 are any reflection, 52 of the 60 established series (a staggering 87 percent) will probably show year-to-year declines in May.

Freshman hits are few: Columbia TriStar’s Judge Hatchett (1.9) has inched past Twentieth TV’s stalled Power of Attorney (1.8) for the first time. And with May do-or-die time for new entries, the future remains particularly bleak for Studios USA’s Arrest & Trial (1.4), Warner Bros.’ Moral Court (0.9), Columbia TriStar’s Men Are From Mars/Women Are From Venus (0.6) and MGM’s barely visible Sex Wars (0.5).

Among the cable networks in prime time, Lifetime is leading the sweeps pack for the first two weeks (through May 9), while Cartoon Network is showing the greatest growth among the major networks. Lifetime scored a 1.8 universe rating (1.4 million households) vs. a 1.6 (1.2 million households) this time last year. Cartoon grew 12 percent in households, to a 1.6 universe rating (1.1 million). The other general-entertainment networks?TBS, TNT and USA?are flat at best.

Meanwhile, the news networks have all grown their prime-time viewers over May 2000. Fox News Channel posted the largest gains, increasing household delivery 80 percent, to 403,000 homes (0.6 rating). CNN increased its delivery 17 percent, to 440,000 (0.5 rating), while MSNBC grew 26 percent, to 231,000 homes (0.4).

–with Marc Berman