Fox Gains In Key Group; NBC Off 18 Percent

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NEW YORK ( -- With last night’s ratings left to tally, the November sweeps spelled good news for CBS, ABC and FOX -- all essentially flat or up versus a year ago. But the period spelled very bad news for NBC, which finishes the period down 18 percent for the most-coveted demographic versus a year ago.

CBS and ABC tied for the top 18-to-49 spot at a 4.4/12. For total viewers, CBS led the competition by nearly 3 million. In addition to gaining in total viewers, ABC and Fox both increased their 18-to-49 viewers.

For NBC, the sweeps results provide a snapshot of the network’s dismal ratings picture, which has only worsened since last year’s ratings breakdown. The network’s season-to-date ratings in 18-49 year olds are down 15% and media buyers say make-goods are all but inevitable.

Three-year timeline
While NBC knew its ratings decrease wouldn’t turn around this year, few suspected it would be down as much as it is at this point in the season. Last year NBC worked hard to convince buyers it wasn’t a network in trouble; this year the network has taken a humbler approach -- Bob Wright has said a turnaround could be three years away.

“When the captain runs past you screaming ‘The ship’s not sinking, the ship’s not sinking,’ you know it’s time to find a lifeboat,” said Mary D. Newbrand, broadcast negotiating supervisor at the Richards Group, Dallas.

Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen has advised investors in a research note this week that she believes that NBC is the only network in a make-good situation.

Luckily for NBC, it should be awash with ratings points as it airs the Winter Olympics from Torino, Italy, Feb. 10 through 28. Most media buyers suspect NBC will have to use some of that expensive Olympics inventory to make good for its ratings under-delivery. The Olympics will also help NBC promote its shows to a new audience.

“You’re talking about programs that get a 25 rating,” said Jason Kanefsky, VP-account director at MPG. “That’s an opportunity to leverage new programs, launch new shows and reinvent the wheel a bit.”

NBC isn’t officially commenting on make goods or its ratings situation, but maintains the stance that the network is where it expected to be and that its ratings decline was spread over the past year. The difference between NBC’s May sweeps numbers is smaller than the network’s year-over-year sweeps comparison. It did announce that it will return to a block of sitcoms on Thursday nights, anchored by “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office.”

The network’s brightest spot, “My Name is Earl,” has helped the network climb double-digits on Tuesday night and NBC is encouraged that “The Office” is increasing its retention of Earl’s audience. The most recent episode of “The Office” retained 76 percent of “Earl’s” lead-in audience, as opposed to the early season retention rates that hovered in the 60 percent range.

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