Thursday, April 20, 2017

A18-49+: 2017 Ratings Races to Watch in the Last Month


As of today, we are four weeks away from the last day of broadcast upfronts and five weeks away from the first day of summer. In the coming weeks, there will be a lot more to say about renewals, cancellations and schedules, but I'd like to take this moment to preview some of the more trivial, historical matters in the 2016-17 ratings season. How is this season's new show class? How are the networks faring on a relative basis?

League Average

WeekEndingLAy2dy2dy2yProjLALAwkwky2yOrigHrsLYHrs
253/12/20171.30-15%1.241.21-15%61.555.5
263/19/20171.30-15%1.241.25-14%56.056.5
273/26/20171.29-15%1.241.15-14%52.553.5
284/2/20171.28-15%1.231.12-20%58.556.0
294/9/20171.28-16%1.231.06-24%65.058.5
304/16/20171.26-16%1.220.95-27%55.062.5

We'll start with the bad news that hangs over broadcast on a nightly basis: this will be another season of record-setting decline for same-day ratings among broadcast original series. In 2015-16, the rate of league average decline shot up from -10.7% to -13.3%, and it looks like we could be headed for another jump of that size or even more in 2016-17. As of week 30, the rate of decline is -15.9%, and seems to be rising. In these last couple years, it's not just that same-day ratings are declining, but they're declining noticeably faster on a percent basis.

Things were actually looking a little up for most of March. At the end of week 27, the year-to-year decline was at -15.06%, its smallest number in well over two months. But the last three weeks have been utterly devastating. It was somewhat inevitable that there would be some rough times, especially in week 29 when Fox had comparisons involving the three-night American Idol finale from last year. But week 30, with the Idol comparisons gone, was a new low point. There were certainly some scheduling things working against week 30 (lots of repeats on Tuesday/Wednesday while Friday was chock full of original filler), but it's hard to make too many excuses for a -27% week. It's going to get better than that, but can it get all the way back to the mid-teens rate of decline we saw throughout the winter, or will 20%+ be the norm down the stretch and drive it even lower? Stay tuned.

New Scripted Series

YearTotalFlopRenewSolidHitBigHit
2001-02361613832
2002-03361813632
2003-0433209421
2004-05341214963
2005-06402012410
2006-07341912611
2007-08291310410
2008-0925149320
2009-10261211630
2010-1134179310
2011-124014151041
2012-1328168310
2013-143919101051
2014-15381916862
2015-16361815620
TOTAL508247176904113

While 2016-17 will look like a bad season for broadcast in general, the blame can't really be placed on the class of new series. Much of this has sprung from veteran declines, including the loss of American Idol, and huge sophomore slumps from the rough 2015-16 class. But, in fact, it is shaping up to be a rather above-average newbie class by A18-49+ standards.

Of course, the star of the show will be NBC's This Is Us, which will become just the third megahit new series of the 16-year A18-49+ era (likely somewhere in the upper 210s, which is extraordinary if still a long way from Empire (303) and Desperate Housewives (262)).

Barring something cataclysmic, there will be three other shows to cross the 125 "hit" threshold: Fox's Lethal Weapon, ABC's Speechless and CBS' Kevin Can Wait. None of those will get there by a huge margin, but it should be just the fifth time in 16 A18-49+ seasons that there were four new hits, and just the third time (joining 2004-05 and 2013-14) that each big four network had at least one.

For just the third time, there will also be a double-digit number of new series to finish in the "solid" category, and this year will probably set a new record for solid series. Ten are locks: the above four plus American Housewife, Bull, The Great Indoors, The Good Place, Star and Son of Zorn. (You could also throw in 24: Legacy if you count the post-Super Bowl episode, but I don't.) Two more, Man with a Plan and Designated Survivor, will be closer calls, but only one must get there for the record 11th solid series. There are certainly a couple timeslot-boosted frauds in this bunch in Indoors and Zorn, and some other shows like Kevin, Good Place and Star which had really big premieres and/or were able to avoid airing in the spring. But I'd argue pretty much everything other than Indoors/Zorn were at least somewhat legitimately successful, which makes for a fairly rich batch of newbies. We'll have to wait for upfront season to see how the renewal rates compare historically, but ten newbies are already in the clubhouse with renewals.

Networks

YearABCCBSNBCFoxCW
2013-14961061039434
2014-151031001009441
2015-16961021039941
2016-17 (thru wk30)971001128840

Another notable development this season is the network race. In the last few years, I have chronicled the so-called convergence of the networks, with all four networks having very similar averages among original non-sports series. In the last two seasons, there was just a single-digit number of Plus points between the #1 and #4 networks!

But in 2016-17, that relative convergence has come to an end. In NBC, there is a runaway #1 network for the first time in at least three years. The network probably will not be a serious threat to post the biggest three-hour network score since the end of Friends; that will still be CBS 2011-12 at 115. But it looks likely to score out as the second-biggest average for one of the three-hour networks since the end of Friends, breaking a 110 average. It has been at 112 for the last several weeks, but declining slowly in the un-rounded. NBC rides the still-enduring The Voice plus a much-improved scripted department, finally scoring a true signature breakout with This Is Us.

There is also a clear #4 network, and there hasn't been one this clear since 2011-12 (the last year that NBC didn't have The Voice in the fall). It completes the reversal of the familiar dynamic from the late aughts, because the clear #1 back then is the clear #4 now. It's Fox, which could finish ten points or more behind third-place ABC. Fox should finish somewhere in the high 80's, the network's first time south of 90 in the A18-49+ era and even a few points behind 2001-02 (the last time it didn't have American Idol).

Is 10:00 the New Friday?

Last thing before we go. One thing a lot of people have noticed this season is the ever-deepening plight of the 10:00 hour for broadcast networks. One thing that's a little tougher to notice is the continued relative increase of Friday ratings.

Broadcast is currently tracking for a new A18-49+ low in the 10:00 hour*...

Year8:008:309:009:3010:0010:30
2013-1410910486
2014-1511110582
2015-1610910783
2016-17 (thru wk30)11310380

...as well as a new A18-49+ era high in Friday average.

YearSundayMondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFriday
2013-149212610810810270
2014-158812410411510272
2015-168612010211910372
2016-17 (thru wk30)871171131189774

It's not out of the realm of possibility that these numbers could meet in the next couple seasons, which makes me start to wonder about the use of the A18-49+ "for Friday" labels. Should the A18-49+ specialized labels eventually be extended to include 10:00 shows? Should the thresholds be raised for what seems like a (relatively) easier Friday environment? Could these labels even extend to Sundays, which remain largely a wasteland for broadcast after football ends?

Some of this was apparent even before this season, which is why I tweaked the True formula to get more generous to 10:00 shows and a little less kind to "leading off the night" at 8:00. True is not explicitly supposed to be predicting how much DVR viewing is delayed, but looking more at delayed viewing ratings this year has only reinforced the idea that 10:00 shows are at a disadvantage. I may expand more on this in the future, but air time does seem to have some bearing on how much of a DVR bump a show gets. ABC 10:00 dramas like How to Get Away with Murder, Designated Survivor and Agents of SHIELD are the biggest DVR gainers on broadcast TV, while ABC 8:00 dramas like Grey's Anatomy and Once Upon a Time get much smaller delayed percent bumps. (In other words, more of their total audience is counted within the same day window.)

For now, I guess airing at 10:00 is probably still easier than Friday on the whole, but that's mostly because there are still so many big lead-ins airing at 9:30. For a 10:00 show with a bad lead-in, like Agents of SHIELD or even the first 1.5 seasons of Quantico, it could be argued that timeslot is just as tough as being in an earlier timeslot on Friday with passable surroundings.

*- Another point about the 10:00-vs.-Friday comparison is that the distant #4 network, Fox, doesn't even program in the 10:00 hour. It's not a big reach to say the 10:00 average could be as weak or even weaker than the Friday average if Fox were there to bring it down farther. It's also even more of an indictment of Fox; they finished a distant #4 while avoiding the toughest hour.

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