Monday, February 25, 2013

The Climate, Week 21: A Case of the Tuesdays

There's perhaps nothing more painful for TV ratings followers these days than looking at the Tuesday broadcast ratings. There's NCIS, and then there's a lot of pain. Pretty much every single network has at least one major underperformer. I could blame The Voice and Dancing with the Stars being off, but this night was collectively pretty ugly even when they were airing.

How bad is it? Why is it this bad? And can/will it get better? It's time to play a little CSI: Tuesday.

The Tuesday Blues

Here are the A18-49+ averages for big four original entertainment programming on each of the five weeknights over the last seven seasons (throwing out the Sunday 7:00 hour):

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Sunday
2006-07 109 120 105 122 112
2007-08 105 119 106 115 116
2008-09 112 126 108 117 110
2009-10 113 128 105 108 111
2010-11 108 112 118 121 109
2011-12 120 107 121 111 104
2012-13 116 100 115 111 107

These will adjust somewhat between now and the end of the season; namely, Sunday without NFL overrun support may drop to the 2011-12 level or a touch below, while Monday through Thursday should increase a bit with The Voice returning and American Idol continuing to lift Wednesday/Thursday. Completists might notice that Monday thru Sunday are collectively weaker than in the other seasons; the simple explanation is this is because of 1) an uncommonly strong season for Friday originals and 2) fewer weak originals on Saturday that pull down the average, meaning the weeknights are usually closer to average.

But this statement I'm about to make will probably still hold up by season's end: Tuesday as a whole this season is the weakest weeknight in at least the last seven seasons. Not just absolutely speaking, but relatively speaking. This factoid may not stand after The Voice comes back, but for now: it's a weeknight that's right at the league average! Considering how many low-rated originals drag down that average on Friday and Saturday and 7:00 Sunday, that is a tough feat for a weeknight to pull off.

What Happened?

So why have Tuesdays become such a disaster area? Looking outward, there is shockingly little explanation. It's an increasingly rare night without football. Despite broadcast's struggles, Tuesday is still a pretty high-viewed night; in fact, it's ahead of both Wednesday and Thursday by at least a full percentage point in 18-49 PUT. There are some things going on on cable, but I don't think it's an inordinately strong night; the only one of real significance is FX's Sons of Anarchy, and broadcast has gotten even more dire at 10/9c since it's been gone.

The only thing that I could imagine blaming on the outside is that Tuesday is the night of choice for political pre-emptions. Both the fourth and seventh Tuesdays of the season were off for political reasons, and February's State of the Union was also on the night. It's worse to be pre-empted than not to be pre-empted, and quite a few shows fell a bit immediately after those pre-emptions, but it's not like Tuesdays were soaring in the first three weeks and then totally derailed. It's more excuse than legitimate reason, for me anyway.

The smartest take on Tuesday? Look inward. The networks are just doing an absolute piss-poor job on the night. It's not like broadcast's Tuesday struggles are brand new this season; I acknowledged the percolating Tuesday problem in the upfront preview last year, and I was disappointed by how little it was addressed in the upfront schedules. The closest thing to an "attack" on Tuesday was Fox's four-comedy block, and it's hard to call Raising Hope in the lead-off role much of an "attack." Overall, the networks overestimated both returnees like Happy Endings and Smash, whose previous ratings after huge lead-ins were fraudulent, and new shows like Vegas, Go On, The New Normal and The Mindy Project.

I expected the Tuesday blues would worsen, and it's safe to say it has gone even worse than I expected. I figured something was bound to emerge from all the collective weakness. But maybe that line of thinking is too old-school. There are too many other options for someone to succeed simply due to the failings of others. Even if other broadcasters are incompetent, you have to stand out to some degree.

The Tuesday Opportunity

Believe it or not, the networks being completely incompetent on Tuesday is actually a good thing. The TV world is full of "looking outward" problems like new viewing technologies that the networks can't really do much about. The Tuesday landscape is a good old fashioned scheduling inefficiency that they can actually exploit in a big way, if they have something appealing enough. I was surprised it didn't happen last year, but I'd be shocked if they continue to let the night die this year.

Here's an off-the-top-of-my-head suggestion for each of the big five:

ABC. Maybe the spring season will provide a massive turnaround and get me to change my tune. But I'm pretty sure it's time to move on from Dancing with the Stars on this night. At the bare minimum, move on from the idea that it's "launching" something. A Dancing-centric Tuesday has kept ABC relevant but unspectacular and old-skewing in the past; this year, they were just a disaster. ABC has one of the highest-profile dramas in development, the Marvel Comics S.H.I.E.L.D. program. Rather than throw it at football and event season on Sunday or to the Thursday 8:00 wolves, build Tuesdays around that, either at 8:00 or 9:00. Lead another male-leaning new drama out of it. The landscape is ripe for a real game-changer, and ABC has the barest Tuesday cupboard. S.H.I.E.L.D. looks like the network's best bet.

CBS. It seems quite possible that this will become an NCIS times three evening with a spin-off of NCIS: Los Angeles on the way. I have a sinking feeling that, since it's a spin-off of LA, they will want to put it at 10:00 after its parent show. I say give it the best chance by airing it at 9:00 and moving LA to 10:00. While I imagine NCIS: LA would probably disappoint at 10:00, I'd still call it a win even if it can get back to Unforgettable's numbers from two years ago.

NBC. Like CBS, NBC actually has a couple pieces they can feel good about on this night (though it sure doesn't feel like it in the winter months). The Voice at 8/7c and Parenthood back at 10/9c where it's aired its whole run seem like good fits. At 9/8c, all I can say is that I would not put anything here that is currently on the schedule. The Voice launching pad and the 9/8c hour will give some new show as good a shot as NBC can give.

Fox. This one's the head-scratcher for me. I like the idea of four comedies, but I don't like the idea of a four-comedy block where two of them are Raising Hope and The Mindy Project, even if I think it's likely they will be renewed. Right now, my best guess is Fox goes with a rough approximation of its spring schedule (some kind of reality?/New Girl/Mindy) and puts its new comedy/comedies after The X Factor. Maybe someone who follows development more closely has a better idea.

CW. I'm not in favor of the CW going "all-genre," but it seems pretty clear from their development that they'll at least be going "more-genre" this fall. Tuesday looks like a good night to be in the genre business. Though, again, I fear that the spin-off will be paired with a parent, what I would do is lead off Tuesday with The Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals. (Maybe The Originals could get a post-TVD preview before launching on Tuesday.) At this point in the CW's existence, shows with so-called "built-in audiences" need to be lead-off shows, because they have so few good lead-ins. And hey, it worked for Arrow. At 9:00, just to avoid the possibility of a total disaster night, I'd place old reliable Supernatural. That frees up the network's two strongest known properties (Arrow on Wednesday and TVD on Thursday) to lead into the other two new dramas, whatever they may be.


Week Ending TPUT y2y bc y2y LeAv y2y
171/20/201334.5 -7% 8.8 -19% 2.25 -11%
181/27/201334.6 -2% 7.2 -6% 2.25 -8%
192/3/201336.1 +1% 12.1 +4% 2.32 -11%
202/10/201333.9 -4% 8.4 -20% 2.12 -15%
212/17/201333.2 -3% 6.6 -25% 2.00 -21%


Week Ending TPUTy2d y2dy2y bcy2d y2dy2y LAy2d y2dy2y
19/30/201232.4 -6% 9.2 -16% 2.50 -15%
510/28/201233.3 -3% 8.8 -10% 2.31 -13%
911/25/201233.5 -3% 8.8 -9% 2.26 -12%
1312/23/201233.4 -2% 8.5 -6% 2.24 -10%
171/20/201333.4 -3% 8.3 -8% 2.20 -10%
181/27/201333.5 -3% 8.2 -8% 2.21 -10%
192/3/201333.6 -2% 8.4 -7% 2.21 -10%
202/10/201333.7 -3% 8.4 -8% 2.21 -11%
212/17/201333.6 -3% 8.3 -9% 2.19 -11%

Hard to sugarcoat it: week 21 was the worst of the season on broadcast TV. Biggest broadcast viewing drop year-to-year, biggest entertainment average drop, biggest median week-to-week downturn since week two (as has become tradition in the post-Grammys week), and lowest broadcast-viewed week of the season excluding the two holiday weeks at the end of December. There is one pretty good excuse: Tuesday, where the State of the Union made the networks much weaker than normal (which, as you can see above, is really saying something). Still, the big four were collectively down at least 17% year-to-year on each of the seven days, so that's only part of the problem.

Click to expand for more on the "climate" numbers used herein.

TPUT - This is an ESTIMATED average of how many people are watching TV from 8:00 to 11:00.
  • I derive these numbers by adding up all the ratings and dividing by all the shares in each of the 42 half-hours each week. That means there is some error relative to the numbers Nielsen actually releases. Sadly we don't regularly have access to those. I always advise not to rely heavily on these numbers for any one show in any one week, but the hope is that the error is minimized across a 42-timeslot sample every week.
  • I include the Old Methodology adjustment, which makes the number more like a measurement of how many people watch primetime programming Live + SD, rather than a measurement of how many people watch any TV (including old DVR stuff) from 8:00 to 11:00. This makes the number perhaps less intuitive in a vacuum, but it's pretty much a wash when making week-to-week and year-to-year comparisons, which is what we're really interested in.
bc - This is an average of how many people are watching national broadcast TV from 8:00 to 11:00.
  • This does NOT include the 10:00 adjustment used in the True2 calculation which attempts to account for Fox/CW programming and stronger cable. Again, that perhaps hurts the number in a vacuum, because the 10:00 numbers being used only include three networks, so I'm averaging timeslots that are somewhat apples-to-oranges. But again, it's a wash when making comparisons because I treat it that way all the time. It would not really change week-to-week or year-to-year comparisons, and that's what I mostly care about.
  • Another important note here is that these numbers include the preliminary averages for "sustaining" programming like presidential debates and commercial-free benefit concerts whose numbers are typically omitted from traditional Nielsen averages. I might eventually omit these from this particular calculation, but they're needed on my spreadsheets to 1) make PUT calculations in those timeslots and 2) create a competition number for the entertainment shows that air against them.
LeAv - This is a measurement of how many people watch the average moment of original entertainment series programming on the big four networks. Meaning, no sports, no reruns, no specials, no movies, no sustaining programming included.

Note: Beginning with week 9, all numbers compare against the next numbered week in the 2011-12 season. So week 9 compares against week 10 of 2011-12, etc. This was done to make the comparisons more calendar-friendly. See here for more on that.


Spot said...

I feel like I said this before (which may mean I was self-editing a comment before posting it), but my theory is that the networks are suffered from American Idol ratings-induced PTSD. The night's A18-49+ fell off once Fox moved the show to a Wed/Thurs schedule. But no network moved in to take advantage of the now available audience.

We share similar theories about how each network should respond for next season, too; with the CW we are simpatico as The Originals/Supernatural sounds like a strong night. S.H.I.E.L.D. is probably ABC's best option here. I can see NBC punting with Go On at 9 for next season if it sees life after The Voice this spring unless their comedy development tests through the roof, but cutting The New Normal loose. CBS's NCIS: LA spinoff would help solve their 10 pm problem, but I hope what actually happens is LA is booted off the night and sets off some musical chairs.

Fox is the biggest question mark; they are likely to pick up more shows for next year to avoid having to keep on failures like The Mob Doctor, but their pilots don't sound thematically compatible with the existing shows here. I'd shift The Mindy Project to Thursdays & pair it with a new sitcom (pushing Glee to a midseason launch) while kicking off Tuesdays with its highest-testing sitcom, leading into Raising Hope, New Girl, and another new sitcom.

Spot said...

Great analysis.

I'm interested in seeing what NBC plans to do with the Michael J. Fox sitcom. It seems like a natural for the post-Voice slot, but then again, are they thinking of using it as a self-starter on a revamped Thursday? If so, I would put either two new comedies (shifting Go On to Thursday behind Fox's comedy) or a new comedy (About a Boy, maybe?) + Go On after The Voice. But I would absolutely stick with comedy either way.

Spot said...

Just realized how much I rambled here :P Sorry about that

Spot said...

Just out of curiosity, do you know when was the last time that three dramas on a night have actually worked ? I mean, CBS has been trying that for ages on Tuesday and it hasn't worked. DH and BS worked fine on Sundays but as soon as OUAT showed up both DH lead outs flopped. ABC obviously can't do it on Thursdays at 8. NBC, well, I wouldn't even know where to look. Is this a thing or am I just creating something ouf of the air? Maybe a little variety really is needed.

Spot said...

I guess it depends on your personality whether you derive pain or joy from bad ratings. :o

Spot said...

I'm hoping that NBC will, at best, do what Billie said: shift Go On to 9:30 and put something new at 9, the way Fox did with Raising Hope in season two.

Spot said...

You're right. There aren't that many three-hour blocks that are big successes from start to finish, period. And virtually all of those that are have some variety. You could argue that it's just a coincidence, but I tend to think people generally don't want to plug in for three hours of the same thing. If CBS goes 3x NCIS, that will be an interesting test.

Spot said...

I'd argue NCIS/NCIS:LA/TGW worked in its first year. TGW wasn't as strong as NCIS:LA but still performed solidly.

I don't think there's anything inherent about 3 hours of drama. In practice, it rarely happens because networks want earlier timeslots for reality and comedy and having 3 straight hours of success is pretty rare.

I seriously doubt CBS will try 3 hours of NCIS. I bet they will bump one to Wednesday.

Spot said...

What about Univision affects the others? Well, Maybe not much great factor, but, at least It beating out NBC, and sometimes outdrawn ABC or FOX.

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