According to live-viewing figures (Feb. 1-21) CBS is averaging a 5.7 rating; Fox earned a 4.6 rating; ABC brought in a 3.3 rating; and NBC came in at 2.8. Ad deals are negotiated on the basis of live-viewing figures, though Nielsen Media Research and the broadcast networks release viewership statistics that include live-plus-same-day playback on digital video recorders.
Brad Adgate, senior VP-research at Horizon Media, said Fox's decision to air five hours a week of "American Idol" would tighten the race somewhat. Fox added a third night of "American Idol" for the sweeps, airing it on Thursdays in addition to its two-hour Tuesday and Wednesday outings.
One strong trend had emerged this season, Mr. Adgate said -- networks are having difficulty bringing viewers back when they break up serialized dramas. He cited ABC's "Lost," which is also in a new 10 p.m. time slot on Wednesdays, and CBS' "Jericho," which returned to the schedule after a long hiatus. Neither attracted the same size audience they had in the fall.
Fox also concluded the young-adult soaper "The O.C." last night and, against tough competition, the show went out with a whimper. The show posted a 2.8 rating/6 share among adults ages 18-49, while total viewers were 6.7 million. "American Idol," by contrast, drew 24.2 million total viewers and garnered a 9 rating/23 share in the same demographic.
(A share is a percentage of TV households that have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all TV households, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. households with a TV.)
'Grey' keeps rolling
While ABC's "Lost" has seen its firepower diminish in a new time slot, "Grey's Anatomy" just keeps improving. The show posted its highest rating of the season last night with an 11.6 rating/27 share in 18-49; total viewers reached 27.3 million, up from the medical drama's season average of 20.4 million.
And ABC still has the Academy Awards broadcast on sunday up its sleeve. The Oscars drew 38.8 million viewers last year.