For a third straight season, Monday nights kept getting more crowded. NBC's The Blacklist was a very strong player in the 10/9c hour, ABC's Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor had positive seasons, and even Fox had a breakthrough in the fall with Sleepy Hollow. Eventually the Monday bubble will burst, but there's little reason to expect a major drop-off in 2014-15; Fox is throwing its biggest new gun Gotham at the night, and CBS should shore up 10/9c to some degree with NCIS: Los Angeles (and will also have a The Big Bang Theory injection in the early fall).
The other weeknight on the upswing was Tuesday. Though Fox's comedies imploded, that decline was more than cancelled out by the rise of NBC (most importantly Chicago Fire's strength at 10/9c). Throw in ABC getting on the map with Agents of SHIELD and The Goldbergs and CBS patching up 10/9c with Person of Interest, and it was a positive season for a night that has struggled pretty much since Idol left.
The other three nights were all on the downswing. The biggest story on Wednesday/Thursday was the Fox meltdown with The X Factor, American Idol and Glee. But there was also continued regression on the top comedy nights; ABC Wednesday and CBS Thursday both dropped more than average, as CBS' second comedy hour couldn't match 2012-13 Person of Interest levels. And ABC's Thursday Scandal-fueled strengthening was more than cancelled out by NBC finding all-new levels of ineptitude.
Sunday became the weakest night in the A18-49+ era, largely because CBS remains so content with bad performers in the last two hours, plus their one solid player The Amazing Race had a particularly weak couple of seasons. ABC's drama lineup struggled, especially in the fall, while NBC's Believe and Crisis couldn't approach Celebrity Apprentice levels in the spring. It may get even worse next season, with CBS moving its best Sunday player and Fox killing two-hour animation.
Beyond any individual day, there's another important trend here: the weakening of weeknights in general. 2013-14 had one night that was well above the historical average, two that were a bit below average, and two that were well below average. How can this happen with A18-49+, in which everything's supposed to average out to 100 every year? The answer lies in...
|Year||Weeknight -> LA||Friday||Fri-Hrs||Saturday||Sat-Hrs|
The first column above measures how much Friday and Saturday programming drag down the league average. This number was quite consistent across the first decade of the A18-49+ era; the weekends dragged the weeknight average down by about 9%, give or take a percent or so.
By that standard, 2013-14 represented a major departure. The full league average was just 6.4% below the weeknight league average. Why have weekends become much less impactful? The answer is twofold:
1) Stronger Fridays. The rise of Friday programming is quite striking, and that brings down the relative average of the weeknights as a whole. This has been going on for a few years now, but it really exploded this season. The flashiest story on Friday is the growth of Shark Tank, the first series in the era to beat the league average on a Friday. But Shark Tank and the rise of lead-out 20/20 are not enough to boost the Friday average by eight points. In fact, the shows were on a relatively similar trajectory in 2012-13, when the night was just +3.
The difference was everyone else doing well at the same time. CBS was up by about as much as ABC. The import of Hawaii Five-0 was a big success; it was a stronger player than previous occupants CSI: NY ever was in its three Friday seasons, and that helped boost Blue Bloods to its highest A18-49+ yet (just barely beating season two). NBC got some of its best ever numbers out of Dateline, Grimm basically dropped by the league average (after you remove last season's weeknight airings), and Dracula/Hannibal at least did better than some of the other filler NBC's had in the past. Fox's MasterChef Junior and brief foray with Bones produced some of its best Friday numbers yet.
2) Less Saturdays. Another important factor in the weeknights' collective weakness is how much less programming there is on Saturday. Even when there were relatively strong players on the night (Cops and America's Most Wanted), Saturday is undeniably a night that drags down the league average. Less Saturday stuff = less drag-down. In 2013-14, there were a measly 36 hours of Saturday originals, under half the historical average, and 28 of those were one series (48 Hours).
If I could go back and start this whole A18-49+ pursuit from scratch, I'd probably think seriously about excluding Saturdays altogether. The amount of cheap filler and burn-offs can really vary, and that can have a distorting effect. There's also some stuff that seems to walk the line between original and repeat; I don't count the Saturday editions of Dateline and 20/20, which (if I understand correctly) are essentially repackaged repeats. I'm not that confident in this decision, and I'd prefer to not have to make it at all. If I ever got numbers from prior to 2003-04, I'd have to deal with more seasons that have a ton of Saturday programming.
An important moral of the story is that these weekend developments actually inflate the league average as a whole. That's a bit scary, since (even with these inflations) broadcast has taken two of its biggest drops in the last two years. The full league average drop in 2013-14 was -10.6%, but it would be -12.7% (even worse than the writers' strike year) just looking at the five weeknights!
Here's the now updated A18-49+ Days of the Week post.