Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A18-49+: 2018 Ratings Races to Watch in the Last Month

Four weeks from the end of the season, here's a quick look at how the 2017-18 ratings landscape is going to look.

League Average

I did a deep dive into why the league average projection kept going up about ten weeks ago. The simple way to put it is that broadcast set a very high rate of decline in the first couple months, and everything that's come since then has been nowhere near that unhealthy. Here's what the day-to-day league average projection movement has looked like since then.


Since the return of Once Upon a Time, Friday has once again become a drag on the average. Wednesday has actually done better than I expected since Empire and Star have overachieved somewhat in the spring, but it's still not quite as well as in the winter. But Sundays with Idol have been a major plus (a little less so in the last month), and the Roseanne factor has thrown another big charge into Tuesday, allowing it to gain over a thousandth each of its first three weeks (and a whooping 0.004 on the double-length Roseanne premiere night). So after a couple weeks that were actually pretty close to steady for the projection in early March, Idol + Roseanne (along with a touch of Stormy Daniels in week 26) got things back on the +0.005ish per week track for a solid month. If that continued through the end of the year, the LA would easily get to a 1.12. If it could dig up another thousandth or two per week somewhere, even a 1.13!

However, last week (week 30) was a bit of a blow to those dreams. The projection gained just +0.001 (putting it right at an even un-rounded 1.100), and now we're going into a week without an original Roseanne. I was always skeptical it could get to 1.12 simply because there's a lot of really low-rated stuff being trotted out at the end of the season. Elementary and Code Black and Quantico are all likely to do worse than the previous occupants, and there weren't a lot of situations like that last year.

But to get out of the weeds for a minute, the larger point is that we're looking at a -9% or -10% decline for the league average, which is a major improvement on last year and even a minor improvement on the previous several years. Adding dozens of hours of Idol back into the mix is a relatively seismic event, and the -16% from 2016-17 came in a year when Idol went away. Throw in a a fine but top-heavy new class along with the Roseanne and W&G revivals and this is what we've got. I think it's likely that the "true" league average decline, if you could somehow control for Idol and new shows, is somewhere in the low-teens, but the last two years have varied wildly from that. Perhaps we'll finally see something like that next year, assuming Idol returns and is relatively stable.

New Scripted Series

YearTotalFlopSolidHitBig Hit

As I said above, the word to describe the 2017-18 class is "top-heavy." With huge successes Young Sheldon and The Good Doctor, we will have multiple new shows clear the 150 "big hit" threshold for just the second time since 2004-05. Sheldon is going to be the biggest new comedy in the A18-49+ era, and it may get just enough help from the Big Bang wedding finale to eke out a megahit label.

It's still possible there could be three big hits, tying the 2004-05 record. 9-1-1 is in the clubhouse with a 1.65 average and totally at the mercy of where the league average ends up. The un-rounded threshold that 9-1-1 needs is actually quite close to the border between 1.10 and 1.11... so if it gets to a 1.11, it is unlikely 9-1-1 will hang on.

However, the volume of hit and solid performers will both be much more ordinary by historical standards, and way down from last year's very deep class. Barring a turnaround by Splitting Up Together in the last month, the three shows mentioned above are gonna be the only three new scripted hits of the season, with SUT joining NFL-boosted The Orville and Ghosted to make for a half-dozen solids (maybe Station 19 has an outside shot at being #7). Six solids and three hits are in line with the average numbers across the previous 16 years of A18-49+, so it's not really that bad, but we've been a bit spoiled by recent seasons.



I can't immediately think of another season where networks so explicitly took turns with these big rollouts in separate chunks of the season. NBC loaded all its good stuff up front (This Is Us, Will and Grace, Ellen's Game of Games and a bunch of healthy returnees), Fox blasted all its goods (9-1-1, The Resident, The Four) rapid-fire in the early winter, and ABC waited till after the Oscars for American Idol and Roseanne. This led to a situation in which Fox came out of the Olympics (week 22) with a three-point lead on ABC in the race for third place, but is now seven points in the cellar. If ABC continues at its recent rate, it's not out of the question it could actually catch CBS for second. And NBC, which looked like it could get the most dominant season for a three-hour network since Must See TV, now may finish behind last year's average. I actually think they all did a pretty good job of maximizing what they had, because they clearly didn't have enough for a strong 35 weeks.

But the end result of the roller coaster is that we're gonna end up pretty darn close to the same place as last year. NBC will be at or just a teeny bit below last year's dominant levels, with a poor newbie class but really stellar returnees. CBS had an awesome year on Thursday, a horrible year on Monday, and pretty much just kept doing its usual thing everywhere else. Fox added depth, but the declines of Empire and other veterans held them back from a big uptick. And ABC will break even or narrowly uptick almost entirely on the back of huge timeslot gains from The Good Doctor, Idol and Roseanne.

Days of the Week


The network race will end up fairly stagnant, but there's been some major redistribution across days of the week. To start with the good, there has been some reinvigoration of the supposedly advertiser-coveted Thursday night in 2017-18, with the nightly average headed for a five-year high. Pretty much everyone can stake some claim to helping with this uptick. CBS had the Young Sheldon explosion along with solid 10/9c occupant S.W.A.T. ABC had another awesome season for Grey's Anatomy, and even a disappointing final season of Scandal still produced a lot of huge gains when compared with stuff like Notorious and The Catch. NBC's Will and Grace and Chicago Fire did well, and Fox had some big improvements in the fall with Gotham / The Orville and winter with The Four.

Sunday has also had a nice rebound, but that improvement is far less balanced; almost all the credit goes to ABC, which blew away last year's flop dramas with unscripted options America's Funniest Home Videos, Shark Tank and especially American Idol. Tuesday has also made another move upward. Combined with its big growth last year, Tuesday is now the clear #2 night on TV with This Is Us, Roseanne, a solid CBS, and a slightly less floppy Fox.

The two loser nights have been Wednesday and Friday. In both cases, ABC is again the big difference-maker. Some of the sheen has come off of the ABC Wednesday lineup, and the network has shoved its Sunday drama problems over to Friday. Throw in CBS' Friday dramas coming back to earth a bit and it's going to be a massive drop in interest on the night. The Friday average had grown for seven straight years, booming from a 54 in 2009-10 to a 74 in 2016-17... but it's going to give up roughly half of that growth in just one year.

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