I'm very happy to announce the addition of two more seasons to the "A18-49+ Era"! In other words, I've gotten enough data to be able to calculate a fairly accurate average rating for original non-sports series on the big four in the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons. I now have almost* every 18-49 rating for the six broadcast networks in those two seasons. In this post, I will have a few brief introductory remarks on the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons, and we'll go into much more detail later in the month.
Coming later this month: I'm doing the yearly recaps I have for every other A18-49+ season, and I'll update the Schedules Plus posts with the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons, with Schedules Plus Update posts for each network looking at those two seasons. This may be about all I can handle prior to the new year, but eventually (maybe in the summer) there will be a lot more in terms of individual shows. There's now a complete A18-49+ record for important shows like American Idol, 24, CSI: Miami, Scrubs, and Smallville, plus many shows without current War posts. That's exciting. While these numbers may not make it to the War posts this month, in the meantime you should be able to piece most of them together from the Schedules Plus updates.
*- Like when I first added 2003-04, 2004-05 and 2005-06 to the mix, I don't have every single week. In 2001-02, I'm only missing the week ending 12/30/01, a holiday week with virtually no original programming. In 2002-03, I'm missing three weeks: ending 12/22/02, 1/5/03 and 4/27/03. There are definitely more originals of import missing in this year, though the first two weeks are primarily holiday stuff. Some additional good news: in this new data I also got access to every single week I was missing from 2003-04, 2004-05 and 2005-06. So those numbers will cover the complete season going forward. With all the weeks now included for those seasons, the league averages dropped by .01 or .02, so there will be some changes to currently posted numbers from those seasons.
In the previous edition of the "A18-49+ Era," beginning in 2003-04, we got a one-year look at the TV world as it existed prior to the era. In other words, 2003-04 was one last look at a dominant Friends-led NBC before the network's truly epic collapse began in 2004-05. The new A18-49+ Era, beginning in 2001-02, is sort of the same way. This time, 2001-02 provides one last look at a pre-American Idol Fox. Starting in 2002-03, that show vaulted them to greater strength and, eventually, a long run of total domination.
The effect of Idol is really evident when looking at the network race, as we'll do later, but it's pretty clear even from just the "league average" for the whole big four. Here's the total 13-year record:
|Year||League Average||LA y2y|
So 2002-03 was another year like 2004-05 and 2005-06; some significant new blood kept the big four's original non-sports series average from declining at all. In this case, it was actually up by 2% from 2001-02 to 2002-03. ABC had a quietly decent 2002-03 season with a major injection of The Bachelor franchise (Bachelor seasons in the fall and spring, plus Bachelorette in the winter), but most of the reason for the league average growth in 2002-03 was the explosion of Fox. Fox's raw original series average went up by 22% in 2002-03. This was the best percentage growth in one year for any network in the era, even beating the +16% for ABC's breakthrough 2004-05 season.
We also know now that the 2003-04 season was the only of the early A18-49+ seasons that took a "modern" league average decline, dropping 8%. Each network's raw original series average was down in this season, somewhere from -3% (CBS) to -13% (ABC).
I've mentioned this before, but there's an increasing pile of evidence that the "true league average decline" (in other words, the effect of outside factors) was a lot smaller before the explosion of cable/DVRing in the mid-2000s than it has been since. We still don't have enough years here to get a sense of exactly how much smaller, because the changes were quite volatile in these years. 2002-03 and 2004-05 were both significant sea change seasons. But it seems like a good bet that the reality is somewhere between the -8% trend of 2003-04 and the +2%/+0% trends of 2002-03 and 2004-05.
Perhaps some day I could come up with a "true league average" that is less affected by individual shows; for example, you could start with the 4.31 of 2001-02 and decline about 1.5% every season to arrive at the 4.06 of 2005-06. By that standard, the league averages listed above would be a bit inflated in 2002-03 and deflated in 2003-04, which is something to keep in mind when looking at those Plus numbers. (The shows' Plus numbers would thus be the opposite: too low in 2002-03, too high in 2003-04.) Similarly, you could apply about a 9% "true league average decline" starting in 2006-07 that would flatten out the trend for oddities like the 2007-08 writers' strike, the great new class of 2011-12, etc. But generally speaking, I'd have to do more work and preferably see some more seasons (in both directions) before going that route.
Later this week, we'll get into the actual fun stuff with the yearly recaps for 2002-03 and 2001-02.