A few scheduling quirks helped shore up broadcast ratings in November, as a late finish to the 2015 Major League Baseball season and a Nielsen calendar shift kept the Big Four networks from losing ground.
According to the latest batch of Nielsen C3 data, prime-time broadcast deliveries were flat when compared to November 2014, marking the first time in 20 months the networks did not post organic year-over-year declines. Per the data, in the currency that advertisers care about, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox last month notched an aggregate average draw of 10.3 million adults 18-to-49, or a 2.1 C3 rating when divided among the four nets.
NBC led the way with a 2.7 C3 demo rating, up from a 2.6 during the year-ago period. That 2.7 rating also represents a 17% lift when compared to the 2.3 NBC averaged last month in live-plus-same-day. The network's biggest gainer upon conversion from live to C3 is "Blindspot," which also happens to be the most-watched show on Comcast's ad-friendly Xfinity on Demand VOD service.
Fox, which did most of the heavy lifting, averaged a 2.0 in the so-called dollar demo, up 25% versus last November's 1.6 rating. Chalk up the big gain to the unique composition of the broadcast calendar, which pushed all five of Fox's 2015 World Series games into the penultimate month. (As defined by Nielsen, November was a five-week affair, running from Oct. 26 through Nov. 29, coinciding with Weeks 6 through 10 of the 2015-16 broadcast season.)
Shifting "Empire" to the fall also had a salubrious impact on Fox's November ratings performance. The four episodes of the hip-hopera that aired last month quadrupled the meager 0.9 rating eked out by the year-ago time slot occupant "Red Band Society."
CBS was flat with a 1.8 C3 rating among adults 18-to-49, while ABC brought up the rear with a 1.7, down from a year-ago 2.0. ABC was hampered by significant declines at a number of its 10 p.m. shows ("Castle," "How to Get Away with Murder," "Nashville") and a freshman flop ("Wicked City") that further destabilized the final hour of its Tuesday night lineup.
About that scatter surge...
Broadcast scatter dollar volume was up 44% in November, according to Standard Media Index estimates, as the time-honored dynamics of supply and demand did their sweaty little tango on ad buying close to air dates, as opposed to the upfront. Although some news outlets are treating this entirely predictable phenomenon like it's V-E Day and they're looking for a nurse to kiss, it's no surprise and less impressive than it might seem. The networks have had to give away airtime in order to make up for shortfalls in the ratings they guaranteed back in the upfront. These makegoods, or audience deficiency units, have put such a squeeze on available inventory that pricing is predictably inflated.
November's ratings results once again put the lie to the ongoing sabre rattling about the inadequacies of reporting live-plus-same-day data. While the L+SD ratings leave off a great deal of time-shifted viewership, the early numbers remain statistically of a piece with the C3 currency. Only two-tenths of a point separated the Big Four's average L+SD draw (1.9) from the C3 average (2.1), which is consistent with a longstanding pattern. And while we've seen a handful of individual shows win back significant commercial impressions in playback -- primarily in VOD platforms that don't allow for ad skipping -- to say that L+SD isn't largely congruent with the currency is to traffic in self-delusion.
With the obligatory currency rant out of the way, there's not much room to try and put a positive spin on the ad-supported cable numbers, which continue to wither under the pressure of over-the-top services and an ongoing migration of younger viewers to unmeasured platforms. Cable C3 ratings fell 8% in prime-time and were down 9% in total day, marking the sector's 18th consecutive monthly drop.
Only two cable portfolios demonstrated year-over-year prime-time growth in C3, as the Turner Broadcasting nets were up 7% among adults 18 to 49 with a 2.1 rating and Scripps Networks grew 4% to a 0.8. Turner got a big boost from Adult Swim, which among individual cable channels posted the strongest year-over-year gains.
AMC Networks slipped 5% to a 0.9, as the five November installments of the flagship channel's "The Walking Dead" were down 9% versus their year-ago analogues. Fox's cable stable fell 7% to a 1.2, Discovery Communications dropped 8% to a 1.4, and Viacom, the ratings point leader with an aggregate 2.1 in the demo, was down 10%.
NBC Universal cable outlets fell 10% to a 1.7 in the demo, Walt Disney Co.'s brands were down 17% to a 1.5, and A&E Networks plummeted 20% to a 0.9.
Cable scatter was up 24% in November, per SMI. Unlike upfront buys, no ratings guarantees are made for inventory bought in the scatter market.