Low-rated Olympics net NBC sweeps rating nod

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The surprise rating improvement seen by NBC and Fox in the November sweeps can be attributed to network programming that has come under attack for low ratings: The Olympics and the World Series.

NBC won the prized November sweep period in the key adults 18-49 demographic and took back the title ABC earned during the last November period. Although the network made some prime-time schedule changes this season, key to the win was the NBC Sydney Summer Olympics, a vehicle that allowed the network to promote its fall lineup as well as it did. "The Olympics has always provided that cross-promotional platform," said John Lazarus, senior partner of national broadcast at TN Media, New York. "Corporately, they got big value out of it."

Similarly, Fox's improvement in its season-to-date viewership can also be attributed to the World Series. After a disastrous year in 1999, in which network viewership tumbled 15%, Fox witnessed a 5% bump in the adults 18-49 demographic, to a 4.5 rating and 12 share, up from a 4.3 rating and 12 share a year ago. Fox also increased 11% in total viewers, a good showing, but not quite recovering from the 15% dip.


"World Series did a 12.4 over five nights. That's pretty decent-even though it was the worst-rated of all time," said Brad Adgate, senior VP-audience research for media buyer Horizon Media, New York. "This helped them."

Sports programming has been criticized by ad executives recently because the World Series and the Olympics have earned lower-than-expected ratings. For example, the Olympics earned, from 7 p.m. to midnight, an average Nielsen 13.8 rating over 17 nights for NBC.

But the total was still higher than the average network prime-time rating in September. Ad executives said the late start of the season also helped NBC-because the summer Olympics ran the last two weeks in September, just days before the new prime-time season started, NBC was able to grab immediate promotional value for their fall season.

NBC posted a surprising broadcast network-leading 5.6 share among adults 18-49 in the November sweeps, up 4% over a year ago. ABC was second at a 5.0; Fox was third, grabbing a 4.7; and CBS earned a 3.8, placing it fourth.

This was a major achievement considering that critics generally wrote off NBC as the network with the worst development of new shows at last spring's upfront. Of the Big 4 networks, NBC was the only network to gain year-to-year.

It was able to pull off the win not from its rookie shows, but from its returning ones. Chiefly, NBC's Thursday-night lineup improved, as "ER" significantly boosted ratings vs. last year. NBC's boldest gamble paid off as well, moving "Will & Grace" to its most prized time period, Thursday at 9 p.m. Thursday-night veteran "Frazier" then shifted to Tuesday at 9 p.m.


ABC and CBS were thought to be on verge of removing NBC as the No. 1 network in adults 18-49, the key demographic for advertisers. But both suffered from programming that skewed somewhat older than expected.

ABC still pulls in big ratings with its "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire," with the result that the show's numbers skewed the entire network to an older demographic. ABC's 18 to 49 demographic dropped 15% from last year and its adults 18-34 numbers lost 17%.

Analysts were hoping that CBS would pull in more adult 18-49 viewers due to its summer success with "Survivor." This didn't happen, even though industry executives generally applauded CBS's development slate over all other networks, particularly "Bette," a sitcom starring Bette Midler.

Fox improved from last year's debacle due to two new hour shows with "Boston Public" on Mondays and "Dark Angel" on Tuesdays. But its hour-long Wednesday-night drama "The Street" has been a big disappointment. The show has been pulling in around 4 million viewers on average.

"We are in the early stages of turning this network around," said Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group. "Clearly, it's been the one sore spot."

UPN and WB saw improvements this sweeps period. UPN is up 13% in adults 18-49 to a 1.8 rating and its adults 18-34 demographics is also up to a 1.8 rating. The WB has improved more to a 1.9 rating in adults 18-49, up 19%, and to a 2.2 rating in adults 18-34, 22% higher than a year ago.

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