Monday, April 20, 2015

A18-49+: 2015 Ratings Races to Watch in the Last Month


Today marks exactly one month from the end of another regular season, and exactly one week from the start of our three-week upfront extravaganza. Since we probably won't be discussing some of this stuff in-depth until the summer, it's a nice time to take a look at some of the ratings implications for the last month of the season. Though there are not many relevant data points left from a renewal/cancellation perspective, some things of historical interest are still to be decided in the month to come. Here's a look at a very close network race, a very good newbie class, and what's yet to be decided for some of the biggest shows. All numbers through Sunday, April 12.

Networks:

Week Ending ABC CBS NBC Fox CW
1 9/28/2014 102 94 112 90 17
5 10/26/2014 102 98 111 83 38
9 11/23/2014 104 99 107 82 38
13 12/21/2014 103 100 107 83 40
17 1/18/2015 100 102 103 91 40
20 2/8/2015 102 102 101 93 41
21 2/15/2015 103 102 99 94 41
22 2/22/2015 103 101 98 94 41
23 3/1/2015 103 101 99 95 41
24 3/8/2015 103 100 99 96 41
25 3/15/2015 102 100 100 96 40
26 3/22/2015 102 100 100 97 40
27 3/29/2015 101.4 100.3 100.1 97.1 40.4
28 4/5/2015 101.4 100.3 100.2 96.9 40.9
29 4/12/2015 101.0 100.5 100.7 96.5 40.9
2013-14 Week 29 94 106 103 95 34
2013-14 Final 96 106 103 94 34

NBC is running away with the "overall" ratings race due to Sunday Night Football and the Super Bowl. But just boiling it down to original non-sports series, this has been the closest multi-way network race in the whole A18-49+ era. The lowest total for a #1 network in the era was 106 (by CBS last year and in 2004-05), and that record is going to get smashed this season. As of week 29, ABC leads with 101.0, but there's now a virtual three-way tie as NBC sits at 100.7 and CBS at 100.5.

Who will win? ABC has led for the last nine weeks, but it has not been trending in the right direction since How To Get Away with Murder ended in February. There might be some minor scheduling things in its favor; it will stop having to count In an Instant starting with week 30, plus NBC's The Voice will continue to weaken and CBS will do some weird May sweeps stuff like trade out Scorpion for Stalker. It looks like CBS will pick up some more ground in week 30 so I will hesitantly pick them, but none of the three would be stunning at this point.

Whoever happens to end up with the highest average in this metric, it's clear that the "winners" in terms of year-to-year trend are ABC and the CW. This should be ABC's biggest season since at least 2008-09 and maybe since its A18-49+ era peak in 2006-07, and it's done so with an impressively consistent schedule that is lacking in megahits. And the CW's turnaround is pretty stunning. At its current pace it would tie the inaugural year of its existence in 2006-07 (41), and be up 11 points in two years. It's quite a feat for a network that is targeting the harder-to-reach younger viewers.

Meanwhile, Empire looks to almost singlehandedly keep an otherwise downtrodden Fox from declining in Plus, while CBS and NBC should both decline in Plus. CBS is going to have its worst season since at least 2008-09 and maybe since the writer's strike in 2007-08.

New Scripted Shows:


Total Flop Renew Solid Hit Big Hit
2001-02 35 14 12 8 3 2
2002-03 36 18 13 7 3 2
2003-04 32 22 9 4 2 1
2004-05 31 12 13 8 6 3
2005-06 38 17 11 4 1 0
2006-07 34 18 12 6 2 1
2007-08 27 11 10 4 1 0
2008-09 25 14 8 4 2 0
2009-10 26 12 11 6 3 0
2010-11 34 16 9 3 1 0
2011-12 40 14 15 10 4 1
2012-13 28 15 8 3 1 0
2013-14 39 19 10 10 5 1

Last year was a bountiful season for hits, but those hits unanimously had major sophomore slumps. It's very possible depending on The Blacklist's late season ratings that not a single of the five 2013-14 newbie hits will be a hit in season two. And the four other than The Blacklist (Sleepy Hollow, The Millers, Agents of SHIELD and Resurrection) will be not just sub-hit but (possibly excepting the five episodes of The Millers) sub-league average! As suggested in the last off-season, the biggest long-term successes seem to be shows that didn't have flashy season one ratings, like The Goldbergs, Mom and Chicago PD.

But in the place of that class of fallen stars has come another class of numerous hits. It seems almost certain that 2014-15 will tie the six-hit record set nearly a decade ago. Scorpion, The Odd Couple, Black-ish and Gotham all seem safe "hit" bets, and Empire + How to Get Away with Murder will also make 2014-15 the first multiple big hit class since that year.

From a labeling perspective, the biggest newbie drama is whether NCIS: New Orleans (125) can hang on to the hit label and be that record-setting seventh hit. It seemed likely earlier in the season, but a string of sub-2.0 points and a higher projected league average have left it an underdog to do so. It probably needs to average more than 1.9 the rest of the way, and it hasn't hit 1.9+ once in its last four episodes.

There have been a lot of major newbie successes this season, but not a lot of second-tier decent performers. In fact, if New Orleans somehow holds onto "hit" and A.D. The Bible Continues averages 1.6 or less the rest of the way, there could be as little as one series in the 100-124 "solid" tier; that would be Fresh Off the Boat, which will be in the low 100s. So even with a record-tying/setting number of hits, the "solid" count will be down year-to-year.

With an almost identical number of total big four new shows (38), we could be headed for a third straight year below the historical rule that one third of new shows gets renewed. I count six shows already renewed plus two mortal locks (How to Get Away with Murder and Black-ish). It's not a huge reach to add The Odd Couple, Fresh Off the Boat and A.D. to the list, making 11 renewals. Can broadcast grind out two more renewals out of the next tier, shows like Agent Carter, Secrets and Lies, CSI: Cyber, Cristela and The Mysteries of Laura? I'm skeptical, but we'll see.

Where Will the League Average End Up?

Week Ending LAy2d y2dy2y ProjLA
1 9/28/2014 2.22 -11% 1.68
5 10/26/2014 1.93 -12% 1.67
9 11/23/2014 1.86 -10% 1.70
13 12/21/2014 1.80 -11% 1.67
17 1/18/2015 1.76 -11% 1.68
20 2/8/2015 1.75 -11.3% 1.670
21 2/15/2015 1.74 -11.7% 1.664
22 2/22/2015 1.74 -11.4% 1.668
23 3/1/2015 1.75 -11.2% 1.673
24 3/8/2015 1.75 -10.9% 1.678
25 3/15/2015 1.75 -10.6% 1.684
26 3/22/2015 1.75 -10.2% 1.692
27 3/29/2015 1.74 -10.2% 1.692
28 4/5/2015 1.73 -10.3% 1.690
29 4/12/2015 1.72 -10.3% 1.689

At the moment, we are headed for another season of double-digit declines for the average big four original. But how will it compare with the 10.8% league average decline in 2012-13 and the 10.6% league average decline in 2013-14?

As of mid-February, there appeared to be "worst season ever" potential, even counting the -12.0% 2007-08 writers' strike season. That was when the league average decline bottomed out at -11.7%, with a projected league average of just 1.664. But then, the monster that was Empire started making a legit impact. The year-to-year decline lessened over the next five weeks, and as of Empire's finale week it was at just -10.2%. Projected league average was 1.692.

I expected it would start declining again in the weeks after Empire, but it has been a very slow process, even in weeks that dropped well over -10%. Why? A key factor here is last year's Olympics. Over a 2.5-week period in February, the big four aired nearly 100 more hours of originals than they did with the Olympics going on last year. Since then, they've been slowly making that up by sprinkling in more repeats in March and April. Weeks 24-29 have all been down year-to-year in terms of original volume, and three of those weeks were down double digits. So even in weeks with a large percent decline, it makes less of an impact because there are fewer originals to drag down the average.

This means that in the first three full weeks since Empire ended, the projected league average has dropped just three thousandths (from 1.692 to 1.689), and just plugging in flat week-to-week ratings for the unknown Sunday shows as of this posting, it looks like it will actually go back up to 1.690 or higher this week. Maybe it can get all the way back down to 1.680 if the volume of originals evens out during May sweeps, but I'm not really seeing 1.67 or 1.66 in the cards anymore.

Miscellaneous: 
  • Why does all this minutiae about league average thousandths matter? Perhaps the most interesting issue is the show that meaningfully affected the average itself. Empire, sitting in the clubhouse with a 5.09 average for the season, is the outright biggest scripted show of the era at a 1.670 league average (305), tied with 2001-02 Friends at a 1.680 (303), and behind Friends but still the top drama at 1.690 (301). More precisely, it becomes a 303 (tying Friends) starting at league averages of 1.682 or lower, and it becomes a 304 (beating Friends) starting at 1.677.
  • Empire is going to become just the second newbie in the available 14 seasons to claim top scripted series on broadcast, joining 2004-05 Desperate Housewives. And this will likely become the first year that the top two dramas are both newbies. It feels a bit unfair, since How to Get Away with Murder was behind Scandal almost every week they were on the air together, and Murder has gotten to avoid the late part of the season. But Scandal's late-season swoon means its average (2.97 after last Thursday) will drop behind Murder (2.96) unless it can somehow get back to its season average the rest of the way.
  • Some veteran shows that are headed for their biggest Plus of the era: The Middle (118) will get there by a nice margin. Shark Tank (109) and Scandal (174) should be OK despite some late-season struggles (and Tank's upcoming move to 8/7c). Blue Bloods (77) will do it unless it takes a ridiculous drop (like sub-1.0) in the last two eps. And America's Funniest Home Videos (75) will be a close call but is probably favored to do it. However, a long streak of Plus growth is almost certainly coming to an end for The Big Bang Theory (258).
  • Long before Empire was making a run at biggest scripted series of the era, the CW's The Flash (84) was going after the title for biggest netlet series. Topping season two of Smallville (87) has looked like an unlikely pursuit in recent months. The last couple weeks of growth have perhaps opened a very small window, but it looks like the show still needs about a 1.5 average the rest of the way and for the league average to get down to 1.680ish just to tie. To actually get to 88? It needs to throw in a couple 1.6s and see a 1.670ish league average. Seems kinda far-fetched. Still, the show should pretty easily beat Enterprise (79) for biggest netlet newbie in the era, which is a very nice consolation prize.
  • A secondary CW storyline developed when Arrow (60) heated up in December. Could it actually tie/beat out the old, pre-Flash record for the biggest scripted average since the CW came into existence in 2006, season one of The Vampire Diaries in 2009-10 (61)? That would mean the network had its two biggest A18-49+ series in the same season. Like with The Flash, it will need an overachieving stretch run in a tough time of year. A 1.0 average over the last four, plus a 1.680 league average would tie. It probably needs some points above 1.0 for any chance at breaking the record. But a 60ish Plus after posting 50 and 49 in its first two seasons is still a great job.

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