For ABC, everything's coming up 'Roseanne'

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Credit: ABC Disney

The return of the ABC sitcom "Roseanne" has left many who cover TV falling all over themselves to describe the show's popularity. Some ratings watchers have gone so far as to suggest that the Conner family is poised to be the catalyst for a new broadcast comedy boom.

While a little hyperbole is understandable—it's hard to understate the novelty of characterizing a broadcast series as a hit without having to reach for the scare quotes—the how-"Roseanne"-saved-TV pronouncements are a bit overblown. And the breathless citation of the premiere's DVR-inflated live-plus-three-day ratings only further muddies the waters of what should be a clear-cut success story.

After bowing March 27 to a massive 18.4 million live-plus-same-day viewers and a 5.2 in ABC's target demo (which works out to 6.64 million adults 18-to-49), "Roseanne" held up nicely in its Tuesday night time-slot debut. According to preliminary Nielsen data, Tuesday night's episode averaged 15.2 million viewers and a 3.9 rating, and while that marks a 25 percent decline in the demo, that 3.9 also represents the season's third-highest delivery for a scripted broadcast show. (Bookended between the two "Roseanne" broadcasts is the season premiere of CBS's "The Big Bang Theory," which served up a 4.1 rating among the 18-to-49 crowd.)

ABC was so delighted by the show's premiere numbers that it issued a renewal notice for an eleventh season just three days later. Tuesday night's ratings demonstrate why ABC was wise to secure Roseanne Barr, John Goodman and the rest of the gang for the 2018-19 campaig: In the unlikely event that "Roseanne" continues to lose a quarter of its demo every week, its season average will still work out to a more-than-respectable 2.4 rating. Not only would that establish "Roseanne" as the season's No. 2 comedy behind "Big Bang," it would mark a 41 precent advantage over ABC's runner-up sitcom, "Modern Family."

If history is any guide, "Roseanne's" ratings chart will feature a more gentle slope. After a possible deep dip in week three, the show is likely to stabilize, shedding a few tenths here and there before finishing up the season at nearly half the strength of its premiere. In that model, "Roseanne" closes out the season as broadcast TV's highest-rated scripted series, coming in at around a 3.4 in the demo.

Even the more pessimistic model would serve as a reminder that the huge ratings "Roseanne" delivered in its first two weeks will keep its seasonal average buoyed over the course of its nine-episode run. As such, there's little sense in perpetuating the narrative trumpeted by the Hollywood trades, which can't seem to stop hyping the premiere's DVR lift. It's all well and good that time-shifted viewing helped "Roseanne" overtake ABC's Academy Awards audience, but the inflated numbers are of little interest to advertisers, who pay for demos rather than total reach, and transact against commercial impressions rather than DVR stats.

At the risk of flogging the corpse of Seabiscuit, the C3/C7 currency is statistically consonant with the no-frills live-same-day deliveries, largely because people who catch up via their DVRs tend to zip and zap through the commercials. Even if more people in the course of the next six months ultimately wind up watching the "Roseanne" premiere than the Super Bowl, those deferred deliveries will have a negligible impact on marketing plans.

The first batch of "Roseanne" C3/C7 ratings will be processed by mid-April. While the networks are loath to share the data, we'll keep you posted in the event "Roseanne" sees a significant lift from its already bulky live-same-day deliveries to its commercial impressions.

Like most ad-supported TV networks, ABC doesn't see much of a lift in the official currency data, and its comedies are notably unaffected by delayed viewing. Per Nielsen, ABC sitcoms on average see a 0.1-point lift in the demo upon conversion to the C3 data, and improve by 0.3 in the expanded C7 metric. "Modern Family" is the exception to the rule, winning back as much as one-half of a ratings point in C7.

According to data, "Roseanne" over-indexes on quick-service restaurants (McDonald's, KFC and Subway have bought inventory in ABC's broadcasts) and soft drinks (Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Coca-Cola). Pharma and auto are other key "Roseanne" categories.

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