Although the new broadcast season is just two weeks old, another soft ratings week for NBC has media buyers and financial analysts rumbling that the network's reign as the advertising cost-per-thousand leader could be in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, all the first-week plaudits for the new UPN sitcom Everybody Hates Chris were tempered a bit when the show took a significant ratings dip.
"The pricing gap between No. 1 NBC and No. 4 ABC was 20 percent in the last upfront," one analyst said. "It's possible that NBC's ratings erosion could move CBS ahead of NBC, or even move ABC up to No. 2 in CPM, particularly if NBC cannot find a hit this season, and if Lost and Desperate Housewives continue their huge ratings."
NBC will get a major ratings bump in February with the Winter Olympics, but ABC has the Super Bowl this year, which will boost its cumulative ratings considerably in the battle for supremacy in the 18-49 demo. Media buyers noted that they factor out special events when making their upfront buys.
Sam Armando, director of television research for Starcom Worldwide, said while Fox won the 18-49 race last season, the network would not have won the season without having the Super Bowl to air. "Ninety-five percent of our advertising plans are based on ratings from regularly scheduled programming," said Armando.
Few of NBC's new shows are showing they can help much. The drama Surface, on Monday at 8 p.m., fell from a 3.8 to a 2.9 in 18-49 in its second week; The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, on Wednesday at 8 p.m., lost nearly 1 million viewers and dropped from a 2.3 to a 2.1 in 18-49; the drama E-Ring, on Wednesday at 9 p.m., fell from a 2.5 to a 2.1 and lost 1.4 million viewers. The latter two shows will switch places, effective this week.
While the jury is still out on critically acclaimed My Name is Earl, even that show lost nearly 4 million viewers and fell from a 6.6 to a 5.1 in 18-49. A bright spot for NBC was that Law & Order, in the Wednesday 10 p.m. time period, beat the debut of CBS drama CSI: NY in 18-49 (4.8 to 4.5), and fell just shy of ABC's new drama Invasion (5.1). Last week, Invasion, leading out of ABC megahit Lost, produced a 6.8 18-49 rating. ABC got solid ratings for its premiere of Commander in Chief (Tuesday, 9 p.m.), which recorded a fourth-place 4.3 rating in 18-49, but won the time period in viewers with 16 million.
While UPN's Thursday 8 p.m. sitcom Everybody Hates Chris beat NBC's Joey head-to-head in week one among viewers 18-49, last week Chris lost 1.6 million viewers and fell from a 3.2 to a 2.4 in 18-49. Joey drew 1.4 million more viewers than Chris.
Meanwhile, the WB accomplished what it wanted to on Thursday—to become a player in the lucrative ad market on that night. The premiere episode of Smallville won its time period among men 18-34 with a 3.5, the first time in the network's history that it won an adult demo on a Thursday.