This spring, media buyers cracked that Fox’s new dino drama should bear a three-word title: Terra No Va (the latter syllables are Spanish for “no go”). Now, some 16 months after the series was introduced during Fox’s 2010-11 upfront presentation, those same buyers are hoping that Terra Nova will get off to a rip-roaring start.
The two-hour premiere (Monday 8-10 p.m.) cost upwards of $16 million to produce, making it the most expensive pilot since ABC bowed Lost in 2004. And while some of the cost of the first two hours will be amortized over the life of the series—a good deal of the budget was devoted to set building and CGI—Terra Nova is clearly the biggest crapshoot of the fall TV season.
Because it has been dumped in a tough time slot—the premiere butts heads with ABC’s Dancing With the Stars and CBS’ Monday night comedy lineup, as well as ESPN’s Monday Night Football—buyers are cautiously optimistic about Terra Nova’s opening night numbers. A 4.0 score in the 18-49 demo would satisfy early ratings guarantees, and the cost of entry (less than $150,000 for a 30-second spot) is manageable.
But make no mistake, Monday night is a monster. Last week, the two-hour premiere of CBS’ How I Met Your Mother drew 11.8 million viewers and a 4.9 rating/13 share in the demo, while Two and a Half Men scared up a whopping 27.8 million viewers and a 10.3/26. Among new series, the comedy 2 Broke Girls was the belle of the ball last week, luring 19.4 million viewers and a 7.1/16 in the money demo.
ABC’s Dancing With the Stars may also pose a threat to Terra Nova; the season premiere delivered 19 million viewers and a 4.0/10 in the demo. Less daunting is NBC’s The Sing-Off, which averaged just 5.3 million viewers and a 1.9/5 in its two-hour season debut.
After Monday night’s opener, Terra Nova will occupy the 8 p.m.-9 p.m. slot, opposite How I Met Your Mother and Two Broke Girls, as well as the first hour of Dancing With the Stars and The Sing-Off.
Another predator to watch out for is a cable sports property. ESPN kicks off Week 3 of Monday Night Football with an NFC East showdown between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins. Through the first two prime-time games of the 2011-12 NFL campaign, MNF is averaging 13.3 million viewers and a 5.6 in the demo.
The Sept. 26 game is particularly daunting, given the participation of the Cowboys. While most football fans would rather choke than buy into the franchise’s self-imposed honorific (“America’s Team”), Dallas is an indisputable ratings leader. Last year, the Giants and Cowboys waged their usual brand of internecine war, serving up 18 million total viewers/9.4 million adults 18-49, making the game the most-watched cable program of 2010.
More recently, the Cowboys squared up against the other New York franchise, and the results were even more explosive. NBC on Sept. 11 delivered 25.8 million viewers with its coverage of the Jets’ 27-24 victory, the biggest turnout for a prime-time NFL broadcast since December 1997.
While the early numbers will begin to trickle in on Tuesday morning—final live-plus-same-day deliveries will be squared away by late afternoon—only a true catastrophe will leave buyers second-guessing the Terra Nova premiere. Because Nielsen’s C3 data won’t be available until mid-October at the earliest, clients won’t have a truly nuanced picture of how their investment paid off until Terra Nova is well into its fourth week of life.
The currency against which all television inventory is sold, C3 refers to a blend of average commercial minutes in live programming plus three days of DVR viewing. In many cases, a show on broadcast can gain an entire ratings point upon application of C3 data.