The Network Ratings Picture Gets Clearer

NEW YORK Broadcast network prime-time viewing patterns took a small step toward normalization last week, when live-plus-same-day viewing increased for several veteran shows, following heavy viewer sampling of new shows the week before.

CBS was the biggest beneficiary of the change in viewing patterns. Its Wednesday veteran drama Criminal Minds, for example, finished first in the competitive 9 p.m. time period on Oct. 3, drawing 14.6 million viewers, up 15 percent from premiere week, when it finished third behind freshman drama Private Practice on ABC and Bionic Woman on NBC. The latter two shows posted declines in week two.

Another CBS vet, NCIS, saw its Tuesday 8 p.m. viewership lift by nearly 18 percent to 16.4 million over premiere week, while Tuesday 9 p.m. drama The Unit grew viewers 5 percent to 11.6 million.

NBC’s 8 p.m. Wednesday game show, Deal or No Deal, brought in 11.1 million (22 percent over the previous week) without having to tango with a special edition of ABC reality program Dancing With the Stars.

“Many viewers seemed to come back to the shows they’ve watched on a regular basis in the past after doing some heavy sampling during premiere week,” said Dave Poltrack, executive vp, chief research officer at CBS.

ABC’s quirky new drama, Pushing Daisies, premiered solidly with 13 million viewers and a 4.3 18-49 rating, while the critically panned Cavemen on ABC debuted to a decent 9.1 million viewers and a 3.5 18-49 rating—the same demo rating as lead-out sitcom Carpoolers.

Last week’s numbers, like those from premiere week, do not take into consideration the sizable number of DVR viewers who watched in delayed mode beyond the first day. The first round of live-plus viewing data, beyond live-plus-same-day, is expected from Nielsen Media Research early this week.

Poltrack thinks that could add as much as 10 percent to the viewer totals of the more popular shows.

Still, there were some potential problems. ABC’s veteran drama Grey’s Anatomy, the highest-priced scripted prime-time show for advertisers, dipped 16 percent among the 18-49 demo from premiere week. It fell to a 7.4—still respectable, but down from the same period last season.

The CW’s Monday comedy block premiered last week to paltry 18-49 and viewer totals, with the lone new sitcom, Aliens in America, drawing only 2.3 million viewers and a cable-comparable 0.8 18-49 rating. One glimmer of hope for The CW: Gossip Girl drew 300,000 more viewers in its third outing than it did in week two, albeit from a small base.

Overall, research execs at both the broadcast nets and the media agencies agreed, not much unexpected has happened so far this season. “Only one new series premiere generated viewership more than one share point off our estimates—NBC’s Bionic Woman—which did slightly better than we expected,” said Steve Sternberg, executive vp, audience analysis at Magna Global USA.

Poltrack believes the viewership picture will become clearer by the end of this week, when all DVR viewers are accounted for by Nielsen. He said persons using television (PUT) levels so far are down among male and female demo groupings between the ages of 25-54 by between 2 and 7 percent, numbers that can easily be pushed up to flat when DVR viewership is added. And among women 18-24, TV viewing is up 24 percent, a good sign for younger networks like The CW.

“Once the DVR viewing numbers are released, it will become easier to identify where the shortfalls are,” Poltrack said. He added that, historically, most veteran shows peak in their ratings in the third or fourth year and then begin to average viewer declines of 5 percent a year.