Please Stop Blaming Lousy Weekend Ratings on Lower PUT Levels

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April 20th, 2008

You'll hear a lot of television analysts discuss the lower HUT/PUT on the weekends as a way to explain away the lousy ratings for the major broadcast networks on Friday or Saturday.  HUT/PUT is just jargon for "homes using television" and "people using television".   By Nielsen's own accounting Sunday and Monday are the highest PUT days, followed by Tuesday, Thursday and Wednesday.  

The truth is, Friday and Saturday are indeed lower.  Compared to Thursday, Friday has 8.5% fewer people watching in primetime and Saturday has 10% fewer viewers.  These calculations are based on Nielsen Data from last fall (November sweeps).

PUT by DAY, Fall 2007

To hear some of the analysts tell it, you'd think the drop off from Thursday to Friday and Saturday was half - or at least a third.  But it's not that much.  It's not nothing, but it's certainly not so huge as to explain why the broadcast networks fare so badly on Friday and Saturday.  Lousy programming explains it all.

Because of the programming, people aren't watching the major broadcast networks as much on Fridays and Saturdays. They are watching cable, local channels, and other things on the dial besides the major nets more than they do on other nights.  And from the broadcast perspective the difference in share on Fridays and share on Thursdays is sometimes much bigger than the difference in the PUT levels.

This past Friday, for example viewers watching ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and the CW (I don't have data for MyNetTV, Telemundo or Univision or I'd include it) represented 30%.  In other words of all televisions turned on, only 30% were watching ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and the CW.  This past Thursday wasn't much better really, the share at 9pm was only around 35% but there were reruns on three out of five networks.  Two weeks ago the 9pm share of the major broadcast networks was almost 45% and that was with reruns of Supernatural and Desperate Housewives running.  

This Thursday when Grey's Anatomy is back and nothing is a repeat at 9pm, share for the broadcast networks will likely exceed 50%, and it is often around 50% when American Idol is on. Last Tuesday, by itself Idol had 22% of all televisions in use from 8pm-9pm.

The broadcast networks seemingly have thrown in the towel for Friday night and especially Saturday nights.  We've seen some wacky conspiracy theorizing on the site before.  Crazed fans thinking that CBS and Nielsen were deliberately plotting somehow so that a particular show would have low ratings and get cancelled.  That seemed ridiculous to me, but I might be able to slightly embrace a conspiracy theory involving the movie studios paying the networks a kickback to broadcast crap on the weekend so people are more likely to go to the movies.

I don't really believe that's the case, but at least it would make more sense out of the atrocious numbers on Friday and Saturday.  That said, don't believe everything you read about HUT/PUT because in looking at this stuff pretty much every night since last September, I see reference to the lower HUT/PUT just about every weekend. 

But I've never seen anyone reference how disadvantaged Wednesday is compared to Sunday - almost 10% based on the Nielsen data from last fall.   I guess when American Idol is on, nobody cares about HUT/PUT, especially FOX, even though the ratings bloom seems to be off the rose for AI.

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