Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Climate, Weeks 18/19: NBC is Back, and NBC is Beyond Repair

NBC won premiere week in adults 18-49 for the first time since 2003 (the final season of Friends), then they won November sweeps for the first time since 2003. For most of this season, they were the only network up year-to-year (and they were up a lot) while everyone else was down double digits. Football deserves a huge share of the credit, but even in entertainment programming averages, NBC was quite competitive; when I last posted about the network race in week seven, they had an ever-so-narrow lead on CBS. The NBC entertainment average got as high as a 106 A18-49+ on several occasions. That was an eye-opening accomplishment for a network that hadn't finished any of the previous six seasons with an entertainment A18-49+ better than 88. And their new shows seemed the least disastrous of a very weak fall crop; they had the biggest new drama (Revolution), the biggest new comedy (Go On) and a slow-burn success in Chicago Fire.

But 2013 brought NBC a huge quintuple-whammy: 1) Go On completely melted down without the support of its fall lead-in The Voice; 2) 1600 Penn looked weak in its Thursday debut and was pretty clearly dunzo by week two; 3) Deception, after at least a somewhat reasonable start, was essentially done for by week three; 4) Do No Harm had the lowest-rated big four scripted premiere ever; and 5) Robert Greenblatt's pet project Smash bombed out of the gate in its second season premiere. Barely two months removed from their November sweeps victory, a Vulture post asks: "Has NBC Passed the Point of No Return?"

Two months ago, NBC was back. Now they're so not back that they're actually beyond saving! How could it have changed so quickly?!

Short answer: it didn't. They were never back, and they're still not beyond repair. Here's the long answer.

The Extent of the Collapse

The aforementioned quintuple-whammy plus the absence of The Voice have shown up in NBC's averages in a meaningful way. Here are the relative entertainment averages from when I last looked at the network shifts (week 7), after The Voice's finale (week 13), and now, a little less than halfway through The Voice's hiatus:

7 94 105 105 93 29
13 91 108 105 93 30
19 92 110 98 99 29

So these last six weeks have clearly been pretty brutal. NBC is no longer a "league-average" network. Earlier in week 19, they dropped from second to third in original entertainment average; Fox has added eight points in A18-49+ in the four weeks since American Idol showed up. At this point, it'd probably be an upset if NBC is not back in fourth place in entertainment average by the time The Voice comes back. (Though I can't rule out them passing ABC again in the late spring.) They've lost two points each of the last three weeks while ABC has held right around 92.

In the overall numbers (including sports), NBC's of course stronger. But on Super Bowl Sunday, they lost their grip on #1 in the overall Live+SD 18-49 averages, and they also lost virtually all of that much-ballyhooed year-to-year growth from the fall. (To be fair, you could argue that being even year-to-year despite losing the Super Bowl is still pretty impressive.) They may later fall behind Fox to move into third in overall averages, too.

What Does The Quintuple-Whammy Mean?

In week seven, I advised not to overreact to the enticing numbers suggesting NBC was "back." You didn't have to be a prophet to see that NBC was getting a monstrous boost from The Voice. It was responsible for almost all of their year-to-year growth as well as their competitiveness in entertainment averages. The NBC of the first 13 weeks was never going to be the NBC of the next 13.

Now I guess I'm on the other side of the argument. If it was unfair to stage an NBC coronation based on the first three months of the season, it's also unfair to pretend they never happened. The real question about NBC's 2013 is whether all these disappointments have actually meaningfully cut into the gains they made in the fall. Do we actually know something about NBC that we didn't know coming into 2013?

To return to NBC's quintuple-whammy:

The flops of Deception, 1600 Penn and Do No Harm. Yeah, it sucks that all three new shows were disasters. But it's hard to feel that their failures were real game-changers. They were held for midseason for a reason, and it's not like any of them really built up any kind of hype. 1600 Penn and Do No Harm were scheduled on NBC's weakest night, so they were basically doomed from the get-go. I had a little more hope for Deception because I liked the cast and timeslot, but I'd lost interest within a few weeks.

The collapses of Go On and Smash. These are much higher-profile failures. Go On has a former Friend and was supposedly NBC's favorite pilot of the 2012-13 crop, and it shed about a full point when The Voice was gone. Smash had a 15-episode season after The Voice and was only able to turn that into a 1.2 for the second season premiere.

Are they surprising failures? Late last season, I thought Smash "deserved" renewal, but I also acknowledged that I wasn't sure where it could be scheduled in a favorable way for the network. I expected it'd be a bubble show at best this season. So maybe that means it never really "deserved" the renewal. Many were convinced the Go On of the fall was something like a modest success, and those people might argue that its collapse has taken something meaningful away from NBC's fall. Though I did expect it'd be doing a little better than this without The Voice, I always thought "modest success" was too strong. So I tend to think these shows' failures have more of an impact on PR than on the network's actual strength as a whole.

Combining Fall and Winter

It's fair to say that NBC looks weaker now than at the beginning of 2013. Even if most of what happened is far from a shock, it still happened. I don't mean to minimize a bunch of shows flopping in succession. That's a lot of money down the tubes. But how much does it take away from what was accomplished in the fall? If we combine the fall and the winter, is NBC having a good season or a bad season?

I still say good, and likely still the best relative to last May of any big four network. (Though this is not saying much.) The "beyond repair" network has actually made repairs relative to where they were at the 2012 upfront; even if Revolution turns out to be as much of a fraud as Go On and Smash, Chicago Fire still looks like a definite keeper. The Voice itself has been a major repair compared to where NBC was before its premiere in early 2011.

Perhaps the fall schedule was an illusion, but so is the midseason schedule. Keep in mind we're not just in a football/Voice hiatus. The network isn't currently airing five of their strongest series: Sunday Night Football, The Voice, Revolution, Grimm and Parenthood. You can throw out a huge portion of what's airing right now and still work up a fall sked with fewer holes than some of their past efforts.

Basically, the point here is to not get too high or too low. Don't crown NBC while they're airing an inflated fall schedule, and don't bury them while they're airing a deflated January/February schedule. There are some signs that they might be kind of on the way back. There are some signs that they're a very long way from actually being there. The reality is complicated.


Week Ending TPUT y2y bc y2y LeAv y2y
151/6/201334.2 -4% 7.1 -18% 1.90 -18%
161/13/201334.6 -4% 8.7 -10% 2.01 -8%
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%


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%

As always, Super Bowl week was the most broadcast-viewed week of the year. This particular week got a big boost from the long-running Super Bowl, creating massive numbers in a 10:00 hour usually dedicated to post-game coverage and the lead-out program.

The league average has continued to hover in the general vicinity of the season-to-date -10% in recent weeks. This is likely to worsen, maybe to a large extent, in the coming weeks; we've already seen American Idol take hits on both nights in week 20, and NBC's Biggest Loser/Deception Monday will start getting compared against The Voice and Smash at their peaks.

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...

"At this point, it'd probably be an upset if NBC is not back in fourth place in entertainment average by the time The Voice comes back."

I am away from my spreadsheet, but I think that's effectively impossible.

IIRC, to pass NBC before the Voice returns, ABC would have to beat NBC by >1.4 ratings points per week, every week before the Voice returns.

Spot said...

I just mean in original entertainment series average, not overall. Assuming you meant overall, you're right that ABC will not get close.

In original ent. averages, I had NBC up by 0.30 points after week 15, and by just 0.14 after week 19. It appears it'll close to 0.10 after week 20. Given six more weeks, I figured ABC going ahead was close to inevitable.

If you did mean orig. average, perhaps I do something different/wrong in labeling?

Spot said...

Bill was indeed referring to overall averages: https://twitter.com/TVBTN_Bill/statuses/301426056240459776

I edited that portion to separate the "entertainment average" and "overall average" segments into separate paragraphs. May have been somewhat confusing how I kept going back and forth between the two.

Spot said...

I feel like this is a scenario that's repeated itself a few times since the late 1990s: a network (ABC, Fox, NBC) that lags the rest of the pack takes a reality show's hot streak (Millionaire, American Idol, The Voice) and rides back to relevancy. Of course, the details make each network different:

ABC rode Millionaire out until it died, but came back a few seasons later thanks to Lost, Grey's Anatomy, and Desperate Housewives.
Fox's lag was (and still is) perpetual: a not-great-or-horrific fall that's more than outweighed by American Idol, 24, and House's Idol-boosted ratings.

NBC's going to have a structural imbalance because of Sunday Night Football, but if it has a good development season this year a la 2004-2005's class it can at least avoid ABC's fate. But at least having a hit show is a start.

Spot said...

I agree with you in everything. I think something in between of what people always say is far more accurate. NBC is however responsible for putting itself in this situation. As you have said, it is currently airing without most of its big performers and as much as I have understood most of their decisions, I still feel that they should have done better and avoid a winter in which all of their best shows are gone. Because then it kind of gets counter cyclical. If you don't have the eyeballs on your network, promotion is basically useless, because no one is watching. So new shows which are already weaker, will have an even tougher time. It just seems poorly done. I don't think they are very bad with scheduling (I don't think any network will ever beat ABC in those regards, they are terrible), so their problem is not that. They simply lack hit shows that can sustain nights. Ultimately, I think the deciding factor of their season will lie in Revolution. If Revolution proves to still be a very big hit when it comes back, it could be turned into a 9 pm show next fall and save a night for ABC, as it would be able to anchor it while launching another show. If it collapses (as midly as that may be in raw numbers due to the voice), it will have to stay where it is, preventing not only NBC from launching another hit show in that spot but also from building one successful night after this season that would allow them to say that they got something out of this year. That, IMO, would be a true comeback. Go On is out of the game, so only Revolution can make it. Whether or not that will happen, we have to wait and see.

Spot said...

I don't know where to ask this, so I'll post it around.

I have two questions:

1. In September 2005, as you know, Desperate Housewives premiered to an 8.9 adults 18–49 rating. What would that equate to in terms of today's ratings? I wonder the same thing about Grey's Anatomy, which premiered to a 7.2 adults 18–49 rating in March 2005. I understand you may only be able to come up with a ballpark estimate, but I'd be pleased with just that.

2. I know that Super Bowl XLVI in February 2012 stands as the most-viewed telecast in television history, but what is the highest-rated (adults 18–49) telecast in television history?

I'd be thrilled if you can answer these questions!

Spot said...

1. I would say about a 4.0-4.5 for GA and about a 5.0 for DH.

2. Super Bowl XLVI had a 40.5 18-49 rating (though close to 70% watched at least some of the game). The highest entertainment rating that I can recall was the finale of Survivor: Borneo (the first season), which scored a 22.8 (54 share!).

Spot said...

Basically agree on #1: http://www.spottedratings.com/2013/02/spotted-ratings-monday-21113.html#comment-797181946

Not sure that the recent Super Bowls actually have the 18-49 record since ratings are "adjusted" for population size. But that's the highest one I actually KNOW of for certain.

Spot said...

Wow, that's very interesting, thanks so much! I thought those premiere numbers would have equated to higher current numbers. So would The Big Bang Theory's 6.4 a few weeks ago equate to a number around 11.5 back then?! (It looks like you divided the premiere numbers by roughly 1.8, so I multiplied the 6.4 by that). Sorry to bug you, but do you remember when Grey's pulled an 11.6 in February 2007? That's a few years later than the 2004-05 season, so would the calculation to find the current equivalent be different? I remember it being a really big deal when Grey's pulled that number...

Edit: And DH's 13.4 for the season one finale would be roughly a 7.5 now? That's HUGE in this day!

By the way, I love the edit button! TV by the Numbers doesn't have this.

Spot said...

I more or less agree. The big questions for me are (a) does Revolution take a break like it did this year and (b) where does the new Michael J. Fox show go. In regards to (a), if it does plan to take a break next season, NBC should definitely considering moving it if it holds up. As for (b), where this goes means quite a few things, considering it will be the focal point of the entire season, especially if it's a big hit like I expect. To be brief, while it's possible that NBC will pair Revolution and MJF's show, I don't think it would. Because as much as The Voice is a big hit that can be used to launch a show, MJF's new show will be the same. I'm making the bold prediction that NBC will use that show to launch MJF's new show, to take it from a high level to an insane level, but in effect, that's like using TV to launch a drama, since in this situation it would be TV, MJF's show, a new comedy, and then a new drama. Which is to say, if it's moving anywhere, it will probably be sandwiched in between two similar shows on Wednesday or even Thursday.

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