Broadcast Primetime Sees Fewer Viewers, Less Stunt Programming During November TV Sweeps

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December 5th, 2008

A new report out by MAGNA today on the just completed November sweeps period notes:

  • This year’s November Sweeps seemed to come and go without much fanfare as the networks shied away from stunt programming and focused on their core schedules. On a five network basis, the percentage of the overall schedule that was filled by repeat programming was essentially unchanged from a year ago (about 13 percent).
  • TV usage was stable compared to 2007 among most key demos, with younger viewers showing some marginal dips. Ad-supported cable as a whole gained over last year, as did pay cable (possibly helped by the season finale of HBO’s True Blood).
  • ABC aired the Country Music Awards and American Music Awards as normal, but scaled back the number of holiday specials running during the Sweeps period. Without the Writers’ Strike looming in the background, it’s possible the network felt more comfortable stacking its annual holiday fare in December and airing more original episodes of its regular series during sweeps.
  • Unfortunately, this strategy did not seem to help. With key dramas Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, and Brothers & Sisters all on the decline, the network lost 16 percent of its total women 18-49 audience compared to last year. That being said, ABC still came out on top relative to the other broadcasters in that demo category, which translated to a win among adults 18-49 as well (albeit by the slimmest of margins).
  • CBS once again won the sweep among total viewers and adults 25-54, largely by keeping its decline to a minimum. It also tied ABC among women 25-54 and was just a tenth of a rating point behind in the adult 18-49 race. Having one of the only two new hits this season in The Mentalist certainly helped, as did resurgence by procedural NCIS (now in its sixth season). CBS looks to be in good shape going into the new year, as its schedule is the most stable and best equipped to withstand the onslaught of FOX’s American Idol.
  • NBC, which has been the subject of a lot of negative press reports recently, is actually in the same relative position it was a year ago. While its sweep audience did decline, ABC and FOX’s declined more. Still, without any new scripted hits and a heavy reliance on reality programming going into midseason, the network is facing an uphill battle.
  • FOX had a difficult Sweeps, dealing with disappointing performances from returning series and schedule holes (Wednesdays at 9pm). Both Prison Break and Sarah Connor Chronicles have faltered on Mondays, and House’s new time period has nearly halved its audience compared to last year. On the plus side, Fringe is the top new series in primetime, and its shorter commercial breaks have shown promising results in terms of audience retention. The network is now in its usual holding pattern, waiting for the arrival of American Idol in January to provide the ratings surge it needs. While the singing competition did finally start to decline last season, it will undoubtedly still be the top rated broadcast show when all is said and done. Both Fringe and midseason entry Lie to Me are poised to reap of benefits of being Idol lead-outs, and Mondays will be shored up by a still solid House and the return of 24.
  • While CW was the only network that didn’t decline among its target demo during the sweep, its gains would have been much more significant if not for the failure of its Sunday night lineup. Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill have seen major growth over last season, and 90210, while not as strong, has boosted its time period. The poor performance of the MRC-produced programs on Sunday basically offset those gains, and it’s unclear if the network’s new lineup of Jericho repeats and movies will fare any better.
  • While ad-supported cable did see gains over last year’s November Sweeps, the majority of the increase can be attributed to election coverage on the news networks. Among adults 18-49, a whopping 92 percent of overall cable growth came from CNN, FOX News, Headline News, and MSNBC. The number was not quite as large for adults 25-54 (73 percent), but still represented the bulk of the additional viewing.

As always, the report is packed with data we don't usually see or get to publish and you can download it here.

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