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post #1 of 1 Old 01-12-2005, 10:36 AM - Thread Starter
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Audience-wise, a good network year
Which is to say viewing is even with a year ago
By Toni Fitzgerald
Once, years ago, a good year was when the broadcast networks could claim more viewers. These days, a good year is when the networks can boast of holding onto the viewers they have.

And on those terms, this is a good year for the six networks.

Though the wealth has certainly been redistributed among the networks, mostly going from NBC to ABC and CBS, there's not been the expected flight so often reported at this point in the season.
The networks are down 2 percent among households, up 1 percent among adults 18-34, exactly the same among 18-49s, and down 1 percent among 25-54s.

That’s according to the Primetime Mid-Season Report issued by Magna Global USA this week based on fourth-quarter data.

“The biggest (and mostly unreported) news so far this season is that through the fourth quarter, the combined ratings for the six broadcast networks among adults 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54 were virtually unchanged from last season,†says Magna Global USA executive vice president and director of audience analysis Steve Sternberg in the report. “Ad-supported cable in aggregate continued to grow because overall television usage was up versus last season.â€

The most interesting shifts have come not in how many viewers are watching but what they are watching. CBS, after battling NBC for No. 1 among 25-54s last season and finishing second, is now a solid No. 1 with a 5.0 average, 0.7 ahead of second-place ABC and NBC.

Among 18-34s ABC is up 0.3 to a 3.1 while CBS has risen 0.4 to a 2.9. That offsets losses of 0.3 and 0.4 for NBC and Fox, respectively, which are tied for the season lead at a 3.2 average.

It’s almost the exact same pattern among 18-49s, where CBS and ABC both have gained 0.3 compared with last year while NBC and Fox combined for a 0.7 loss.

While CBS and ABC are clearly having seasons to be proud of, their ratings aren’t all that impressive when compared with previous years. Sternberg says that just a few years ago, the current No. 1 network would have ranked much lower.

“CBS has taken over the lead among adults 18-49 not through significant ratings growth, but by remaining stable as its competitors declined,†he points out. “Seven years ago, CBS was a distant fourth place, 8 share points behind first-place NBC, with virtually the same rating and share that places it in the lead this season.â€

Sternberg attributes CBS’s success this season mainly to its returning shows, not its new ones. Almost all of its returning dramas are up this year compared with last, as is sitcom “Two and a Half Men,†while “CSI: NY†has been its only new hit.

ABC, on the other hand, has seen the opposite occur. The only returning show that hasn’t dipped is “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition†but new shows “Desperate Housewives,†“Lost,†“Wife Swap†and “Boston Legal†have performed well to extremely well. (Remember that “Alias†is not included in fourth quarter data.)

Though Fox finished the fall with disappointing results outside of baseball, it remained No. 1 among men 18-34 and teens.

Almost all of NBC’s returning shows are down, with the exception of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit†and “Las Vegas.†It retains the No. 1 spot among women 18-34 but has fallen to second among women 18-49. Last year at this time NBC led that demo by almost 20 percent over CBS, which has taken over the lead.

Among the report’s other findings: 10 of the 15 new reality shows to debut in the fourth quarter were flops and basic cable recorded its biggest year-to-year viewership jumps among kids under 18 and adults over 50.

Continually updated current ratings and other breaking TV news and commentary is always just a click away:
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