Lovesick Networks Fail to Woo Viewers

Rash Report: Paris Hilton, Univision and the U.S. Senate Break Broadcasters' Hearts

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Here's this week's Rash Report, in which one brave media buyer, John Rash of Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, dives into a week's worth of broadcast-TV ratings in order to illuminate those that delivered, and those that didn't. Look for the Rash Report every Friday at Ad Age's MediaWorks.
Viewers turned to Univision for 'La Fea Mas Bella.'
Viewers turned to Univision for 'La Fea Mas Bella.' Credit: Eric Kenney/Univision

MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- For the most part, it seemed like the broadcast networks this week were looking for love in all the wrong places.

First came word that the news divisions of NBC and ABC backed off post-prison interviews with Paris Hilton. In doing so, they lost a good "get" to CNN's Larry King after denying to pay a king's ransom for the rights. The interview intervention by CNN producers (after reports of the morning-show negotiations became public) helped generate the highest "Larry King Live" ratings in nearly two years.

Another wealthy scion, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, caustically criticized the networks for video violence during a Senate subcommittee hearing, as some senators mulled new content restrictions that could hurt one of the few genres that's working well for network TV: forensic dramas.

Summer fling
Then came the tough love of losing not only to cable competitors but also to Spanish-language Univision, as viewers' summer fling with "La Fea Más Bella" ("The Prettiest Ugly Girl") helped Univision win on Monday. The network won the night not just in Hispanic haciendas but nationwide, as well as in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic.

That heartbreak was followed by viewers neglecting to make a date with NBC's lovelorn reality shows, as two episodes of "The Age of Love," the network's experiment with gender and generation, didn't generate much heat with audiences, earning relatively low 1.6/5 and 2.1/6 ratings and shares among 18- to 49-year-olds. And the companion program, "The Science of Love," (2.1/6) also failed to spark.

Simply put, all this resulted in viewers seeing other people. Nielsen announced network ratings among the lowest recorded since the advent of people meters, as people meted out their limited summer viewing to other options.

Recognize this top 10?
For those shows that did make this week's top 10, the list is quite familiar from last week. Summer viewing is steady, with reality shows featuring amateurs cutting a rug (Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" earned a 3.4/10 in last night's Fast Affiliate Ratings, good for second place, and a 3.2/10 for fourth place in Wednesday's edition); outwitting their parents (Fox's fifth place "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader," with a 2.9/10); spinning plates (NBC's "America's Got Talent," No. 1 with a 3.6/12); and breaking plates (Fox's "Hell's Kitchen," third with a 3.3/9).

Pushing away from the plate -- one of the ways Shaquille O'Neal hoped to get kids to lose weight in his well-reviewed but poorly viewed reality show, "Shaq's Big Challenge," on ABC -- failed to crack the top 10, with a 1.7/5 demo delivery, a disappointing debut that landed the program in 35th place.

Viewers on the rebound -- or in summer TV parlance, reruns -- accounted for the rest of the top 10: NBC's "Law and Order: SVU" (sixth, 2.6/8); CBS's "CSI: Miami" and "CSI" (seventh and tied for eighth with a 2.6/7 and a 2.5/7, respectively); "Two and a Half Men" (tied for eighth with a 2.5/7); and "How I Met Your Mother" (10th, 2.3/6).

Some good news
But in a week of often-unrequited love, there was at least some good news for the networks: The relationship that matters most -- the long-term marketing marriage between the networks and advertisers -- appeared stronger than ever.

Reconciliation of the media metric issue resulted in an upfront marketplace with more money and higher CPMs. That means all sides are counting on autumn audiences rekindling their prime-time passions, particularly with serialized dramas -- or beginning new romances with the new fall shows.

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NOTE: 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. Ad deals traditionally have been 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. All the ratings listed here are live.

John Rash is senior VP-director of broadcast negotiations for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For daily rating updates, see rashreport.com.
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