New Order In TV Ratings Sweeps

Although there are, in the traditional sense, two prime-time winners in the February 2001 sweeps — CBS was first in households and total viewers while NBC grabbed top honors in drawing adults 18-49 — no other network, including a re-energized Fox, was able to match CBS’ momentum.

Fueled by strong returns for Survivor: The Australian Outback, Everybody Loves Raymond, coverage of The Grammy Awards and CSI, CBS notched an improved 9.3/15 household rating/ share, according to Nielsen Media Research data. That adds up to a 2 percent ratings rise over last year, and amounts to the network’s first February sweeps win in homes and total viewers since it broadcast the 1998 Winter Olympics.

CBS also grew its adults 18-49 audience by 10 percent to a 4.4/11, though it ended February tied with ABC for third place behind NBC’s 5.4/14 and Fox’s 5.2/13. That improvement helped CBS claim to be the only network to lower the median age of its audience over last February, though it’s still the oldest at 50.6 years.

“After disappointing November results, we vowed to improve in February and we lived up to that promise,” said Les Moonves, CBS Entertainment president. “In just three months we went from number three to number one and there’s no stopping us now.”

NBC also is claiming victory — despite a drastic ratings drop for XFL on Saturdays — thanks to a first-place finish in adults 18-49 for the fourth sweep in a row. The bad news: NBC dropped 4 percent in the demo. “We faced a major challenge in February, CBS’ Survivor, and we still managed to win each of the four Thursday nights in February,” noted Jeff Zucker, NBC entertainment president. “While I can’t say we’re pleased with ratings for the XFL, we plan on turning it into the kind of weekly telecast viewers will want to come back to.”

ABC fared worst of all, plunging across the board by double digit percentages. ABC sat in first place just one year ago, based on the strength of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, but the game show’s ratings continue to erode. ABC ranked third in households (8.4/13, a 19 percent dip) and adults 18-49 (down 27 percent).

Fox, in contrast, moved from third place last February to a very close second in adults 18-49 (5.2/13, up 8 percent), with a consistent delivery in households (6.6/10).

“Of the six networks, CBS and Fox have set up the best building blocks for the future, [while] ABC and UPN [are] in the most vulnerable positions,” said John Rash, senior vp/director of broadcast negotiations at Campbell Mithun. “You can’t build a network on the strength of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire or WWF Smackdown!”

With male magnet Smackdown! negatively impacted by Survivor, UPN had a February it would care to forget, with a declining last place finish in households (2.5/ 4, down 11 percent), total viewers (3.743 million, down 10) and adults 18-34 (1.5/ 4, down 17). The WB, in contrast, outdelivered UPN by 33 percent in adults 18-34 and by 13 percent in adults 18-49, registering solid gains in both demos.

Ad-supported basic cable, meanwhile, enjoyed positive prime-time growth in February, up 12 percent to a 24.9, according to Nielsen data supplied by Turner Entertainment Research. TBS ruled the roost with a 2.0 universe rating. Lifetime wins points for improving its numbers, rising 19 percent to second place (a 1.9 universe rating). Only TNN improved more, shooting up to a ninth-place 1.1 rating from a 0.7 last Feb. USA sans WWF wrestling (which TNN now enjoys) slipped 18 percent from a 2.2 last February to a 1.8 universe rating, down from first to third place.