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The Wiz Helps NBC Regain Its Live Musical Ratings Mojo

Viewership rebounds after last year's Peter Pan implosion

The Wiz eased on down to the road last night to the tune of 11.1 million viewers. Virginia Sherwood/NBC

The Wiz Live saved Christmas! Or, at least, NBC's annual December tradition of airing live musicals.

Last night's production scored a 3.4 rating among adults ages 18-49 and drew 11.5 million total viewers, according to Nielsen's fast official ratings. NBC said the rating mark its second highest-rated Thursday in more than five years, behind only The Sound of Music Live in 2013. 

The number is especially impressive given the stronger-than-usual Thursday night competition. CBS will likely win the night with its Thursday Night Football broadcast of the Green Bay Packers' miraculous come-from-behind win against the Detroit Lions (3.5 in adults 18-49, 12.9 million viewers) while ABC aired CMA Country Christmas (1.0 rating, 5.8 million viewers).

In 2013, NBC's first live musical, The Sound of Music Live, attracted an astounding 18.6 million viewers and a 4.6 rating among adults ages 18-49. But last December's Peter Pan Live managed less than half as many total viewers—9.21 million—and just a 2.4 rating in 18-49.

The Peter Pan ratings were such a steep drop from The Sound of Music that NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt took the unusual step of spinning the numbers himself the next morning, claiming, "We're very pleased with the Peter Pan ratings, and it was a great night for NBC."

Despite Greenblatt's early vote of confidence, NBC seemed to be running scared when it came to its third live musical this year. Several NBC execs declined to speak on the record to Adweek about The Wiz before last night's premiere, while the show's executive producer, Neil Meron, told the Associated Press that the only way NBC's annual live musicals would continue "is if the ratings are up this year. So the pressure is on for this show."

It's unclear whether the network and the producers were deliberately downplaying expectations, or honestly didn't know what they had in The Wiz, which from top to bottom was the strongest and most impressive of NBC's three live musicals.

The advertising community, at least, was more receptive to The Wiz's potential. Dan Lovinger, evp, entertainment advertising sales for NBCUniversal, told Adweek that CPMs—the cost of reaching 1,000 viewers—"are up in double digits this year." Lovinger said there was a "strong" scatter market and advertiser interest in the cast, which included Queen Latifah as the Wiz and Mary J. Blige as the Wicked Witch of the West.

Lovinger said the network was "hopeful that the show will do better than Peter Pan did last year," and The Wiz did exactly that.

Social media during Thursday's live telecast on the East Coast was the first indication that audiences were more engaged with The Wiz than they were with Peter Pan. Data from digital marketing technology company Amobee Brand Intelligence found 1.37 million tweets around The Wiz Live during its East Coast airing, compared to just 360,000 tweets a year earlier for Peter Pan Live.

TiVo Research said the third most-watched moment from The Wiz was behind-the-scenes footage during the credits, an indication that a large portion of the audience stayed until the end. The most-watched TiVo moment was at 8:25, when the Munchkins told Dorothy to "follow the yellow brick road."

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