Typing Faster

October 21, 2009

Ratings V. Demos: NCIS V. Sons of Anarchy

Filed under: Friday Night Lights, Marketing, Sons of Anarchy, Stuff I Like, the biz — petertypingfaster @ 5:00 am

Times they are a changing. There’s no doubt about that. Audiences are fragmenting, fleeing television for the web, video games, and other “On Demand” content. Networks have been left reeling, struggling to meet the same expectations and goals they’ve been shooting for since their inception.

Needless to say, they’re missing them horribly.

Used to be that a “hit” show would average right around 20M viewers an episode. Often times they’d exceed that, hovering up around 25M viewers an episode. If it was a special episode it (a finale, a big sweeps episode, etc), it wasn’t uncommon to see upwards of 30M. If it was a really special show the numbers would get obscene.

How obscene you ask? Let’s take a look at the highest rated finales of all time. Share refers to the percentage of TV sets tuned to that program.

  • M*A*S*H (1983) – 105.9M viewers (77% Share)
  • Cheers (1993) – 80.4M viewers (64% Share)
  • Seinfeld (1998) – 76.3M viewers (58% Share)
  • Friends (2004) – 52.5M viewers (43% Share)
  • Magnum, P.I. (1988) – 50.7M viewers (48% Share)

Now of course these numbers are artificially inflated because they’re all finales, but let me ask you this:

Could you see 100M viewers tuning into the finale of any of the “hit” shows today? How many people are going to tune in for the finale of NCIS? House? Grey’s Anatomy? When their finales roll around, are any of them going to draw such outsize numbers?

Probably not.

In the words of Irwin Gotlieb, CEO of GroupM Global, “Life really was simpler 25 years ago when you had three networks and you could get a 30 share.”

Life’s gotten a hell of a lot harder.

Today’s “hit” show is lucky to average 15M viewers. Most successful shows are hovering closer to 13M viewers. Lets look at the top 25 shows from the week of October 18th, which is fairly representative of the season to date. Scripted shows are in bold.

  1. NCIS (CBS) – 21M viewers / 20 Share
  2. NBC Sunday Night Football (NBC) – 18M viewers / 17 Share
  3. Dancing With The Stars (ABC) – 16M viewers / 16 Share
  4. NCIS: Los Angeles – 15M viewers (CBS) / 15 Share
  5. CSI (CBS) – 15M viewers / 15 Share
  6. The Mentalist (CBS) – 15M viewers / 16 Share
  7. 60 Minutes (CBS) – 14M viewers / 14 Share
  8. Two And A Half Men (CBS) – 14M viewers / 13 Share
  9. Dancing With The Stars Results (ABC) – 13M viewers / 14 Share
  10. Criminal Minds (CBS) – 13M viewers / 13 Share
  11. Grey’s Anatomy (ABC) – 13M viewers / 14 Share
  12. Desperate Housewives (ABC) – 13M viewers / 13 Share
  13. House (FOX) – 13M viewers / 12 Share
  14. CSI: NY (CBS) – 13M viewers / 15 Share
  15. CSI: Miami (CBS) – 13M viewers / 14 Share
  16. The Big Bang Theory (CBS) – 13M viewers / 12 Share
  17. The Good Wife (CBS) – 12M viewers / 15 Share
  18. Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick (NBC) – 12M viewers / 11 Share
  19. Survivor: Samoa (CBS) – 11M viewers / 11 Share
  20. Amazing Race 15 (CBS) – 10M viewers / 10 Share
  21. Private Practice (ABC) – 10M viewers / 12 Share
  22. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (ABC) – 10M viewers / 10 Share
  23. Castle (ABC) – 9M viewers / 11 Share
  24. Brothers & Sisters (ABC) – 9M viewers / 11 Share
  25. Bones (FOX) – 9M viewers / 10 Share

What can we learn from this? We’ve got one scripted show over the 20M threshold. The majority are getting 13M or below. The majority of scripted shows doing boffo numbers air on CBS.

So if these are the numbers of “hit” shows, then where does that leave shows like Dollhouse? Or Glee? Why are these shows still on the air?

That’s where Demographics come in.

Advertisers like some viewers more than others. Their only goal is to reach the people most likely to buy their products, and they’ll pay a premium to do it. That’s the demographic they want.

Unfortunately for CBS, their audience isn’t that demographic.

The droolworthy demographic for advertisers falls in the 18-49 range, and realistically we’re looking at the younger end of that. They want people who are single or just starting families. People who are educated and who have a higher than average disposable income. They want Consumers with a capital C.

CBS’s audience tends more towards retiring baby boomers who just want you to get off their lawn.

Let’s throw up another list. This is a list of the top 25 shows for the same week, but this time they’re ranked according to performance in the 18-49 demographic. No share this time, just viewer numbers.

  1. NBC Sunday Night Football (NBC) – 9.5M viewers
  2. House (FOX) – 6.7M viewers
  3. Grey’s Anatomy (ABC) – 6.5M viewers
  4. The Big Bang Theory (CBS) – 6.5M viewers
  5. Two And A Half Men (CBS) – 6.2M viewers
  6. Desperate Housewives (ABC) – 6.1M viewers
  7. Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick (NBC) – 5.9M viewers
  8. NCIS (CBS) – 5.8M viewers
  9. Family Guy (FOX) – 5.4M viewers
  10. Simpsons (FOX) – 5.4M viewers
  11. The Office (NBC) – 5.3M viewers
  12. CSI: Miami (CBS) – 5.2M viewers
  13. Private Practice (ABC) – 5M viewers
  14. Hell’s Kitchen (FOX) – 5M viewers
  15. Criminal Minds (CBS) – 4.9M viewers
  16. The Cleveland Show (FOX) – 4.9M viewers
  17. CSI (CBS) – 4.8M viewers
  18. Modern Family (ABC) – 4.7M viewers
  19. How I Met Your Mother (CBS) – 4.6M viewers
  20. Dancing With The Stars (ABC) – 4.6M viewers
  21. The Mentalist (CBS) – 4.6M viewers
  22. The Biggest Loser 8 (NBC) – 4.6M viewers
  23. Survivor: Samoa (CBS) – 4.6M viewers
  24. NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS) – 4.5M viewers
  25. Glee (FOX) – 4.5M viewers

Quite a different list, isn’t it?

Two things I’d like to draw your attention to. One is that, while CBS is still doing pretty well, most of their shows have lost somewhere between 2/3 to 3/4 of their audience. That’s flat out disturbing.

The second is that there’s a hell of a lot more scripted content on this list than there is reality, which can only be good news for all of us creatives out there. I’d like to give a little huzzah for that.

Moving over to the cable side of things we see similar things, though with smaller total audience numbers of course.

Quoting an article lifted from TV By The Numbers comes this fascinating tidbit:

Though…FX’s Sons of Anarchy didn’t even make the weekly cable top 40 by viewers (it was 49th, 3.312 million), it was the number three show with adults 18-49 on cable last week, trailing only ESPN’s Monday Night Football, and TBS’ coverage of game one of the NLCS between the Phillies and the Dodgers.

Sons of Anarchy was the only scripted show in the 18-49 top 10 last week (unless you count WWE Monday Night Raw at #s 5 & 8 as scripted content).

Sons of Anarchy was also the only scripted non-animated show with adults 18-34 last week, coming in 8th. Besides trailing football and baseball action, it also trailed The Ultimate Fighter (#3), South Park (#4), a Family Guy rerun on Adult Swim on Sunday night (#5), the Sportscenter that followed Monday Night Football (#6) and another repeat of Family Guy on Adult Swim last Thursday night (#7). Three additional Family Guy reruns on Adult Swim rounded out the top 10 (I know that adds up to 11 shows, but the last two were tied).

From 49th to 3rd. How awesome is that?

And really this is the lesson that broadcasters should be taking away. Yes the audience today is fragmented. Yes it’s too bad that you’re not going see your “hit” show get a 30 share. But if you come up with some great programming, you can still attract a large number of the very advertisers that you’re setting out to attract. The world isn’t ending. It’s just changing.

And hey, if you take a look at the numbers and decide you want to cancel all the NCIS‘s and CSI‘s I don’t think many of us 18-49ers would mind.

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1 Comment »

  1. Huzzah indeed!

    Very interesting article. It reminds me of the “bums in seats” to box office dollars in movie revenues. (Gone with the Wind still being the box office champ)

    Comment by Garner Haines — October 21, 2009 @ 6:43 am


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