Oprah: Queen of Daytime Proves Content Is King

Rash Report: As Do Ratings for Thursday's Lineup

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- The Queen of Daytime once again proved that content is king. Oprah Winfrey's announcement that she will end "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in September 2011 not only affects her TV trajectory, but that of her syndicator, CBS, and especially those local affiliates benefiting from the boost before newscasts her show provided.

Oprah's departure to cable in 2011 will leave a big hole in daytime broadcast TV.
Oprah's departure to cable in 2011 will leave a big hole in daytime broadcast TV.
As for Oprah's opportunities, she's still likely to have an on-air presence on her own OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network). Already, before multimedia morphed from a buzzword to a requirement for stars of her stature, she expanded beyond broadcast to print (both magazines and books), film (as a producer and an occasional performer) and, of course, digital (after famously needing an on-air online primer on the internet). And after redefining the syndicated market, she'll try to put her commercial and cultural touch on cable.

But the one major medium that has mostly missed the Oprah effect is network TV itself, which didn't develop Oprah, let alone nearly any other talker who has dominated daytime in recent years. This was a great historical miss by broadcasters, who to this day are struggling in daytime with soap operas that often have their roots in radio, not the web.

The nets haven't solved their daytime dilemma, but do seem to recognize content's royal status, especially as they chase royalties in prime time. Thursday night's ratings race, for instance, features shows that would be demographic destination points no matter when they were scheduled.

The night's top-rated show in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic (at least according to the Nielsen fast affiliate ratings, with final live-plus-same-day data released Friday afternoon) was ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," a more modern take on a soap opera, which delivered a 5.0/13 rating and share. It attracted twice as many viewers as its lead-in, "Flash Forward" (2.4/7), and 61% more than its lead-out, "Grey's" spinoff "Private Practice" (3.1/9).

Despite "Grey's" ratings leadership, ABC finished second for the night with an overall 3.5/10. That was just a bit below CBS's first-place 3.7/10, as it strung together three shows that not only can, but have, thrived in different timeslots: "Survivor" (3.8/11) and "The Mentalist" (3.7/11), which won the 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. hours, respectively, as well as the show they bookend, "CSI" (3.5/9).

NBC and Fox tied for third with a 2.3/6. NBC's high point, both culturally and commercially, was "The Office" (3.7/9), which was 28% higher rated than its lead-out, the equally Emmy-lauded "30 Rock" (2.9/7), and 85% more watched than the comedy combination lead-in, "Community" and "Parks and Recreation" (both 2.0/6). But as usual, NBC's overall average was dampened by a program that shouldn't have jumped dayparts, "The Jay Leno Show," which only delivered a 1.6/5.

Fox's top spot was for "Bones" (2.7/8), which has also brought its audience with it from another timeslot. At 9 p.m. "Fringe" scared up a 2.0/5.

Rash grids
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See how all the shows did in the ratings.
The CW has been trying to do a bit of scaring as well, to both its viewers and its ratings rivals, with "The Vampire Diaries" (1.7/5), which is yet another Thursday night network hit. It's also well paired with "Supernatural," which notched a 1.3/3.

For the night the CW finished fifth with a 1.5/4, but no doubt delivered much higher ratings with its desired demo of young women and girls. But overall, "The Vampire Diaries" and "Bones" were each off their season-to-date original episode averages by a 1oth of a rating point, joining other hits missing some of their regulars this week, including "Grey's" and "The Office" (both down 12%) as well as "CSI" (off 8%).

Maybe they TiVo'd these small screen hits in order to go to the big screen premiere of "New Moon," the second installment of the "Twilight" saga which has regenerated the genre that has made "Vampire Diaries," as well as HBO's "True Blood," hits. It's taken a bite out of pop culture by being just the latest example of King Content's multimedia morph from book to film to Facebook, which is a model pioneered in part by Oprah Winfrey herself.

WHAT TO WATCH:
Friday: Given here celebrity interview style, don't expect too many rogue policy questions from Barbara Walters as she interviews Sarah Palin on ABC's "20/20." So if you're wondering whether the pop culture impact over her "Going Rogue" book will translate into political success, turn to the "Shields and Brooks" political analysis on PBS's "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer."
Saturday: Two films from two genres that usually don't get (or deserve) critical acclaim: 1986's Sci-fi thriller "Aliens" on AMC and 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs," which was the only film from the horror genre to win the Best Picture Oscar, on WGN.
Sunday: The American Music Awards on the American Broadcast Company.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
After a ratings rise for the recent CMA Awards on ABC, will the American Music Awards rock Nielsen households, too?

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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.

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