NBC’s Ratings Momentum Stalls

Midseason failures leave ‘Voice’-less Peacock adrift

After NBC enjoyed its strongest fall quarter in recent memory, the loss of Sunday Night Football and The Voice have erased the network’s early gains.

Twenty weeks into the 2012-13 broadcast season, NBC has fallen to second place in the all-important adults 18-49 demo, averaging a 2.7 rating through Feb. 10. This represents an 8 percent decline versus the same period one year ago, and marks the first time since the season began that NBC didn’t enjoy an advantage over the rest of the Big Four.

As late as mid-December, NBC was scorching the competition, averaging a 3.1 in the dollar demo, an improvement of 24 percent from the year-ago period. But with the National Football League sidelined until next fall and The Voice on hiatus until March 25, the bottom has fallen out at 30 Rock.

Through the first 11 weeks of the broadcast campaign, NBC posted the highest demo deliveries 10 times. (It tied CBS in Weeks 8 and 10 and lost outright to Fox during the World Series.) Since that time, NBC has won three weekly ratings races (Weeks 13-15), while CBS has owned five and Fox one. ABC is the only member of the Big Four without a single ratings victory—the closest the network came was when it posted a second-place 2.3 in Week 7.

While buyers can set their watches by NBC’s post-Sunday Night Football doldrums—it’s never easy to say goodbye to the NFL’s brawny GRPs—the loss of The Voice was even more disruptive. In moving the show to the fall cycle, NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt supercharged Monday and Tuesday nights, providing strong lead-ins for the new series Revolution and Go On.

Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the third cycle of The Voice averaged 12.2 million viewers and a 4.3 rating in the demo, making it one of the fall’s top performers. By way of comparison, SNF delivered 21.4 million viewers and an untouchable 8.2 in the demo.

The generous lead-in provided by The Voice went a long way toward making NBC’s Revolution the season’s biggest new series. Through 10 episodes, the dystopian drama averaged 8.38 million viewers and a 3.1 in the demo. Like The Voice, Revolution returns on the final Monday in March.

(With a smaller sample size of four episodes, Fox’s new serial-killer psychodrama The Following is averaging 9.3 million viewers and a 2.9 rating.)

Without a boost from The Voice, the Matthew Perry comedy Go On has faltered. After premiering to 9.73 million viewers and a 3.4 in the demo, the show foundered in the absence of its lead-in. In its first week without the tailwinds of Adam, Blake, Cee Lo and Christina, Go On dropped to a 1.5 from a 2.4. The most recent new installment (Jan. 29) delivered a series-low 1.3 in the demo.

Not helping matters is CBS’ stewardship of the Super Bowl and a roster of powerhouse series that includes NCIS and The Big Bang Theory. Fox is also making some noise in the second half of the season, thanks to The Following and the still-viable American Idol. (Its glory days may be long past, but Idol is still averaging a solid 5.1 in the demo through eight installments.)

Setting aside the competition for the moment, NBC’s most pressing problem is what appears to be a historically weak midseason lineup. Newcomers Deception and 1600 Penn have failed to find an audience, and Do No Harm was put on the Do Not Resuscitate list after falling to a ghastly 0.7 rating in the second episode. To add insult to injury, Greenblatt’s pet project, the Broadway musical drama Smash, returned to a surprisingly poor draw of 4.48 million viewers and a 0.8 in the demo.

But for the return of The Voice and Revolution, the only new scripted efforts remaining on NBC’s development slate are Hannibal and Save Me, neither of which has been given a confirmed launch date. 

In a sense, NBC’s midseason declines are simply a matter of the status quo catching up to it. With 20 weeks on the books, Fox remains down 24 percent versus last season, averaging a 2.5 in the dollar demo, while ABC is off 8 percent with a 2.3. CBS is flat (3.2), but take away the gaudy 39.7 it delivered with Super Bowl XLVII and the Tiffany Network would still be down 13 percent with a 2.8.

Greenblatt himself said he expected a reversal of fortunes for NBC, telling reporters that the loss of SNF and The Voice would likely take a bite out of the network’s momentum. “We expect a pretty significant leveling of the playing field, [and] I’d be astonished if we ended [the year] No. 1, given some of the firepower at the other networks,” Greenblatt said during a conference call about NBC’s November sweeps win. He went on to add that he was “pretty confident that [NBC] won’t end up in fourth place again this year.”

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