Blackout Has Negligible Impact on CBS Ratings

Declines for Under the Dome, but overall deliveries are steady

While the four-day blackout of the CBS signal in select Time Warner Cable markets thus far has had a negligible impact on prime-time ratings, the broadcaster did see some shrinkage in deliveries of its new summertime hit.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, CBS’ Under the Dome on Monday night saw its overall deliveries drop 9 percent to 10.4 million viewers, down from 11.4 million the previous week. Adults 18-49 fell 7 percent, or two-tenths of a ratings point, to a 2.6, while the target demo (adults 25-54) dropped 11 percent to a 3.4.

The declines would hardly be worth mentioning if Dome weren’t such a model of consistency. In four consecutive weeks (July 8-July 29), Dome has drawn a 2.7, 2.7, 2.8 and 2.8 in the 18-49 demo while delivering a 3.5, 3.5, 3.7 and 3.8 among the 25-54 set.

For all that, the ratings losses had little impact on CBS’ nightly numbers. Per Nielsen, the network on Monday night averaged a 1.5 in the 18-49 demo, an identical result to its prime-time average on July 29. Overall deliveries dropped just 3 percent from an average 5.65 million viewers a week ago to 5.49 million on Monday night.

It’s also worth noting that Under the Dome faced stiffer competition on ABC. The post-Bachelorette wrap-up, After the Final Rose, drew 8.31 million viewers and a 2.5 in the demo in the 10 p.m. hour. This was more than double what time slot occupant Mistresses drew a week ago (3.96 million viewers, 1.2 rating).

Dome also continued to choke the life out of NBC’s scripted drama Siberia. The sixth episode of Siberia drew a series-worst 1.80 million viewers and a 0.6 in the 18-49 demo, making it the night’s lowest-rated show on the Big Four.

On Sunday, the first date the show was blacked out in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas, Big Brother appeared to be wholly unaffected by the distribution snafu. When compared to the July 28 episode of Big Brother, the Sunday night installment was literally flat at 6.8 million viewers and a 2.3 in the demo.

All told, the blackout affects some 3.2 million viewers, or about 3 percent of the nation’s 115.6 million TV households. And while no one at CBS is happy about losing part of its audience in the two major media markets, New York and Los Angeles tend to under-index on big reach shows like Under the Dome, while smaller cities such as Milwaukee and Dayton, Ohio, often account for a disproportionately large cluster of viewers.

Since the summer began, CBS is up 5 percent in overall deliveries and has grown its averaged 25-54 rating 7 percent to a 1.6. Adults 18-49 are up 9 percent to 1.2.

CBS researchers said they expect the blackout will have minimal effect on the network's prime-time ratings, noting that August is traditionally one of the lowest HUT-level months. Because ad sales revenue tends to slump in the sleepiest part of the year, CBS believes “the overall financial impact of the blackout [will be] negligible.”

UBS Investment Research analyst John Janedis agreed, saying that even an estimated loss of $400,000 per day in advertising revenue and retrans fees is of little consequence to CBS. “If history is any guide, this should be resolved in less than two weeks,” Janedis wrote in a Sunday note to investors.

Earlier today, CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves responded to an open letter from Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt in which the operator offered to restore the network’s signal while talks continue. (CBS has said that the negotiations broke down on Friday and that they have not been resumed.)

Britt, who simultaneously sent the letter to Moonves and members of the media, also suggested offering CBS on a la carte basis. Moonves shot the idea down, characterizing it as “an empty gesture,” before adding that both sides are well aware “that a true a la carte universe is not one that Time Warner Cable welcomes.”

Moonves went on to intimate that Britt’s peace offering was little more than a PR stunt and that the terms and conditions established in CBS and Time Warner Cable’s original 2008 contract were agreed upon in an era when “Netflix was doing little more than mailing out DVDs.” Read between the lines and it’s obvious that CBS is not at all interested in accepting TWC’s terms on digital distribution.

“What you are asking for, pure and simple, is either to gain the right to deliver content for free that others are paying for, or to inhibit CBS from licensing content to existing online competitors and new companies that are now emerging,” Moonves wrote before signing off. “I can understand why you might want to preserve your dominance in that venue, but bullying us into becoming your accomplice in that effort doesn’t seem fair.”