For CBS, a price for Thursday’s gains
A ratings dip in the flush of new competition
October 12, 2005
When CBS successfully ended NBC’s decades-long stranglehold on Thursday last year, it opened up the night for competition, making its own top-rated lineup vulnerable to attack. It’s now paying a price of sorts.
Although still No. 1, CBS has slipped in the 18-49 demographic, having fallen 5 percent for the first three weeks this season, from an average 7.9 rating for the same time period last year to a 7.5.
Moreover, all three of its Thursday shows are off. Survivor is down from an average 7.4 to a 6 and CSI is down from a 10.7 to a 9.8. And while Without a Trace is beating NBC’s ER, its rating is also down, from a 7.1 to a 6.6.
CBS’s declines are due in large part to the collective attack of Fox, ABC, the WB and UPN, which, emboldened by CBS’s successful ascent, have begun to aggressively program on a night that accounts for the bulk of weekly ad dollars. Meanwhile, NBC continues to tumble, down another 33 percent so far this season, to a 4.8.
It’s hard to pick on a network that is not just so far ahead of anyone else but that also has the No. 1 show of the week, ˜CSI,’ while ˜Without a Trace’ is now way ahead of ˜ER,’ says Jordan Breslow, director of broadcast research at MediaCom.
But Thursday is now one of the most competitive nights of the week. UPN brought over a lot of viewers to the night for ˜Everybody Hates Chris,’ even though that show has cooled off.
Just a few years ago, Thursday was a programming wasteland for all of the networks but NBC, which was able to dominate for two decades with shows like “Friends” and “Seinfeld.” That began to change in 2001 when CBS bolstered its lineup with Survivor at 8 p.m. and CSI at 9 p.m. The following year it slid in “Without a Trace at 10 p.m.
Then last year, NBC’s first without Friends, Fox joined CBS in the attack, moving its hit drama The O.C. to the 8 p.m. timeslot. Though its 2.6 18-49 average rating is tiny compared to CBS’s and NBC’s, Fox ranks No. 3 so far this season with The O.C. followed by rookie drama Reunion. They also perform very well among 18-34s. Both shows are currently on hold for post-season baseball.
Then this season, the rest of the networks followed Fox’s lead. ABC anchored its lineup with Alias,” and its average so far is a competitive 2.2 rating. The WB’s new lineup of Smallville at 8 and Everwood at 9 is drawing a 1.7 for the night, nearly double the 1.0 of last season. And UPN, which moved wrestling to Friday to make way for a comedy block led by Everybody Hates Chris, is slightly up to a 1.7, from a 1.6 rating.
CBS’s biggest hurt on Thursdays comes from the diminishing fortunes of Survivor. The reality show is in its 10th version, and most media researchers say it is suffering from tougher competition at 8 p.m.
But “Survivor” is also likely showing the signs of age, losing at least a few viewers who are no longer captivated or surprised by the trials and tribulations of strangers fending for themselves in an exotic location.
It’s a much more competitive night, with all six networks putting in their best product at 8 p.m., says Shari Anne Brill, vice president and director of programming at Carat. And ABC and the WB put in shows that have built-in loyalty. UPN put in its heaviest hitter, ˜Everybody Hates Chris.’
Still, CBS’s strong lead on Thursdays isn’t likely to soon whither away, according to Breslow. CBS is pretty dominant across the night, he says. They are not in a dire emergency situation.
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