'SOPRANOS' LET 'HOUSEWIVES' LIVE

New Season for HBO Hit Doesn’t Disrupt ABC Sunday-Night Rule

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Advertisers breathed a sigh of relief this morning after Nielsen Media Research revealed that the return of “The Sopranos” did not significantly dent ABC’s monopoly on Sunday night viewing.

ABC has consistently won Sunday nights with its line up of soapy “Desperate Housewives” followed by “Grey’s Anatomy.” The return of the David Chase-penned mob drama set in New Jersey was seen as a potential threat to that, particularly now as the broadcast upfront TV market is two months away.

“Sopranos” drew 9.5 million viewers and a 4.5 share and a 10 rating in the advertiser friendly 18-to-49 demographic. The numbers, down compared with the fifth-season opener in March 2004, are a disappointing start to the series' new season.

The on-demand universe
But the lower live rating could be a reflection of the growing on-demand universe where viewers have a plethora of options about what time they check in. HBO subscribers can watch the show at regular intervals on the main HBO schedule or whenever they want on the HBO On Demand platform. The pay-TV network is available in around 28 million homes.

While HBO does not carry advertising, marketers of course weren't entirely left out of the picture, as product-placement watchers on Sunday ticked off the numerous brands that popped up in the show: Carmela rhapsodizing about her new car, a Porsche Cayenne; Tony’s Cingular cellphone, which read “low battery”; and A.J. chomping into a bowl of Post cereal, a long-standing placement partner of the show.

On ABC, in the 9 p.m. “Desperate Housewives,” attracted 22.2 million viewers, beating the competition, but still down from its season average, while “Grey’s Anatomy” won 22.5 million viewers at 10 pm. In the ad-friendly 18-to-49 demo, “Desperate” garnered an 8.8 rating and 19 share, while “Grey’s” built off hat lead in, posting a 9.9/23.

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