HALFWAY THROUGH, ABC AND CBS TIED FOR SWEEPS LEAD

‘Sweeps of No Surprises’ Also Feature Fewer Stunts and Specials

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- As the first two weeks of the November sweeps came to a close, ABC and CBS are tied for the coveted 18-to-49 demographic with an average prime-time rating of 4.5.

Last year at this time CBS was running away with the title, with an average 4.7 18-to-49 prime-time rating, and ABC and NBC were tied for second at 4.1. ABC, up 10%, is the only network to have gained ground over last year, and NBC’s ratings have continued to slide, down 20% in the sweeps period.

Of course, the month’s sweeps period, which began Nov. 3, could be called the Sweeps of No Surprises, as the networks expected to be strong rose to the top. The strongest shows look virtually the same as last year’s; only “Grey’s Anatomy,” which was an ABC mid-season replacement last year, is new to the top 11.

Not so special
Perhaps one of the most striking traits of this year’s sweeps -- and one that underscores sweeps’ decreasing importance as Nielsen rolls out its Local People Meters among top 10 markets -- is what’s largely absent: stunts and specials. Only two of the top 25 programs in this year’s November sweeps period have been specials (as opposed to regularly scheduled shows). Last year during the same period, there were twice as many specials in the top 25 shows.

The real meat is in the season-to-date comparisons (9/19/2005 to 11/13/2005), which has ABC and CBS in a dead heat for the all-important adult 18-to-49 crown, both with a 4.1 rating and 11 share. They’re followed by another tie between NBC and Fox at 3.3 rating and 9 share. Again, ABC is the only network to gain in 18-to-49 ratings over the same period last year with a 5.1% increase; CBS is flat and NBC and Fox are down 15.4%.

(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 TV.)

Don't count Fox out
Of course, buyers warn not to count Fox out. The network suffered from a World Series that had lackluster ratings and only went four games. In the first quarter Fox will air another season of its hits “24” and “American Idol.” With “American Idol” airing three times a week, it contributes 15 hours of Fox’s prime-time viewing.

Because of its sheer volume, "’Idol’ has a much bigger impact on Fox than ‘Lost’ does on ABC," said Jason Kanefsky, VP-account director at MPG.

Coming up next
Other moves to watch in the first quarter will be ABC’s post-Monday Night Football lineup of “Emily’s Reasons Why Not,” “Jake in Progress” and “The Bachelor” -- a reality show whose luster has dulled in the past couple seasons. And many expect NBC’s bona fide hit “My Name is Earl” to move to the all-important Thursday night lineup. NBC’s carriage of the Winter Olympics in February will likely give the network a major audience to promote its shows and schedule changes.

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