Marc Berman has an article in Media Week that looks at the "dead zone" that is Friday night. There are a lot of good numbers in there, including the Friday 8p-11pm CBS block being down 21% from last year. He also points to Smallville's double digit losses when moving from Thursday to Friday (though I'm shocked, shocked to find that he didn't note the CW actually improved versus last year's Everybody Hates Chris and The Game.)
But what really caught my eye was this:
“Since the advent of people meters and the emphasis on adults 18-49, the audience advertisers covet is just not readily available on Friday or Saturday,” points out Jeff Bader, evp, planning, scheduling and distribution, ABC Entertainment Group. “Economically, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to assemble an aggressive night of programming on both nights similar to earlier in the week simply because of the lack of target viewers and weaker advertiser support. The desirable audience is just not available.”
18-49 viewers aren't available on Friday?
Just not available? Less available than Sunday through Thursday, sure. But just not available? Let's look at some numbers. I went back to the first week of March because I wanted to remove NCAA basketball from the mix and also avoid any discussion about the first couple of weeks of Daylight Saving Time.
On Thursday March 4, in primetime on average 35.9 percent of the adults 18-49 population was watching TV. On Friday March 5, that dropped to 29.6 percent. That's a 17.5 percent drop from Thursday to Friday. It is indeed a fairly measurable drop relatively speaking but only a 6.3 percent decrease in absolute terms (29.6 vs. 35.9). Note, this is only a single comparison, I can't say what the average decrease from Thursday to Friday is, though I'll try to track that down. I'll leave it to you to decide whether you think that takes things to "just not available" levels.
My take is there are fewer eyeballs, but that it's not at "just not available" levels. The bigger problem is because mostly dreck is programmed on Friday, relatively speaking more of Friday's viewing moves to cable. That said, with fewer eyeballs available, it's hard to fault the networks for not trying harder to program the night. If anything, it is amazing that CBS continues to try as hard with scripted programming as it has. We don't really expect that to change in the 2010-2011 season, but the following season, who knows?
A one year look back and a look at CBS
I went back to the same Friday a year ago - March 6, 2009. That night an average of 30.9 percent of adults 18-49 were watching TV Friday night during primetime.
In absolute terms there was erosion of 1.3 percent from 2009 to 2010, but in relative terms that 1.3 percent represented 4.2 percent attrition. None of that explains CBS's problems, though. On March 6, 2009 with new episodes of Ghost Whisperer (2.7 A18-49 rating), Flashpoint (2.0 A18-49 rating) and Numb3rs (2.3 A18-49 rating) CBS averaged a 2.3 adults 18-49 rating for the night.
On March 5, 2010, with new episodes of Ghost Whisperer (1.7), Medium (1.9) and Numb3rs (1.7), CBS averaged a 1.8 rating. Nearly a 22 percent decrease with adults 18-49 even though 18-49 viewing was only down 4.2 percent.
It might be worth noting that a February filled with the Olympics might have skewed schedules and viewing habits, but with CBS being down around 21% on Friday's anyway, I'm guessing that's not really a factor here.