Broadcasters excited over how well specials are doing; regular shows doing less well

By David Bauder, AP
Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Euphoria over specials masks deeper TV concerns

NEW YORK — While special events are doing very well for broadcasters — capped off by an Oscars telecast that was the most-watched entertainment program in five years — their day-to-day schedules are hurting.

The Nielsen Co. said Tuesday that 41.7 million people watched the Academy Awards on ABC on Sunday. People are flocking to awards shows and sports; last month, the Super Bowl set an all-time viewership record and the Grammy Awards’ audience was 36 percent more than the year before.

Yet of the 20 most popular returning prime-time series, 16 have smaller audiences than they had last season to this point, Nielsen said. “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” once TV’s most popular program, is down 22 percent and “Desperate Housewives” is off 13 percent.

“That’s where the rubber meets the road, because that’s every week,” said Brad Adgate, an analyst for Horizon Media.

Experts have suggested that social media have helped drive the popularity of special events, with viewers commenting on awards shows to friends via Twitter or Facebook while they are watching. People are probably less likely to do that with the 12th episode of a sitcom’s 22-episode season.

The regular season ratings are another indication that viewers have many more choices, and the gap between broadcast and cable continues to shrink, he said.

Bucking the trend most prominently for the networks is the CBS comedy “The Big Bang Theory.” The show’s average audience is 12.9 million this season; it was 9.6 million at the same time last year. TV’s most popular scripted drama, “NCIS,” is also continuing to grow.

Two of the 20 most popular shows this season, CBS’ “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Undercover Boss,” are new this season. Otherwise, 18 of the 20 most popular returning shows have been on the air since 2005 and earlier. “Survivor” is in its 20th cycle, “American Idol” in its ninth and “Amazing Race” in its 16th.

“Most of the top 20 shows have been around a little while and they’re continuing to fray,” Adgate said.

The Oscars led ABC to a win in the prime-time ratings last week. ABC’s final Barbara Walters special interviewing actors finished just out of the top 10, with nearly 15 million viewers. Walters said she’s sick of these shows after doing them for nearly 30 years.

For the week, ABC averaged 12.1 million viewers (7.4 rating, 12 share), Fox had 11.3 million (6.5, 11), CBS had 10.4 million (6.4, 11), NBC had 6.4 million (4.1, 7), the CW had 1.2 million (0.8, 1) and ION Television had 940,000 (0.6, 1).

Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision led with 3.8 million (1.9 rating, 3 share), Telemundo had 950,000 and TeleFutura had 930,000 (both 0.5, 1), and Azteca had 220,000 (0.1, 0).

NBC’s “Nightly News” topped the evening newscasts with an average of 9.3 million viewers (6.2, 12). ABC’s “World News” was second with 7.9 million (5.4, 10) and the “CBS Evening News” had 6.2 million viewers (4.1, 8).

A ratings point represents 1,149,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation’s estimated 114.9 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.

For the week of March 1-7, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: “Academy Awards,” ABC, 41.7 million; “Oscar’s Red Carpet,” ABC, 25.33 million; “American Idol” (Wednesday), Fox, 23.56 million; “American Idol” (Tuesday), Fox, 23.53 million; “NCIS,” CBS, 19.62 million; “American Idol” (Thursday), Fox, 19.42 million; “Two and a Half Men,” CBS, 16.86 million; “The Big Bang Theory,” CBS, 15.73 million; “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” CBS, 15.59 million; “The Bachelor,” ABC, 15.15 million.

ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. Fox and My Network TV are units of News Corp. NBC and Telemundo are owned by General Electric Co. ION Television is owned by ION Media Networks. TeleFutura is a division of Univision. Azteca America is a wholly owned subsidiary of TV Azteca S.A. de C.V.

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