At 5.4, WB has its best night yet

An estimated 75 million viewers tuned in to see embattled President Clinton deliver his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, up a powerful 36% from last year’s estimated audience, but that increase in Clinton-watchers wasn’t enough to slow down WB’s swelling “Dawson’s Creek.”

Up against nothing but State of the Union coverage on the Big Four, “Dawson’s” flowed to a 5.9 rating, 9 share, the top single-program rating in WB history. That boosted WB to its highest nightlong score ever, a 5.4/8.

“Dawson’s” also increased its audience by 9% during its second half-hour, a gain that may largely reflect the lack of Big-Four entertainment competition. It’s still an encouraging sign for the much-hyped teen drama after the previous week’s two network runs declined during their second half-hours.

Meanwhile, the Big Four nets have estimated that 75 million viewers tuned in to at least some of the President’s State of the Union Address, and Nielsen reports that 53 million tuned in during an average minute (up 29% vs. last year).

The 75 million figure reps a 36% increase over last year’s 55 million and a 30% gain over the 1996 estimate of 57.5 million, but it isn’t close to an all-time record. Nielsen reports Clinton himself earned much higher numbers with his first State of the Union speech in February 1993, reaching 67 million viewers in an average minute vs. this year’s average-minute estimate of 53 million.

NBC earned last Tuesday’s highest State of the Union numbers, an 11.0 rating, 16 share, followed closely by ABC’s 10.9/16. CBS (8.1/12) ran third, while Fox (3.1/5) narrowly topped cable’s CNN (3.0./5). A year ago, ABC edged out NBC, 9.5/14 to 9.2/14.

Women viewed the speech on the Big Four in greater numbers than did men. The night’s average total women rating for the four nets combined was a 24.3, vs. a 21.1 for men.

Viewers let Clinton have his say, with four-net averages increasing as the speech progressed, then declining about 21% during the network analysis and another 3% during the Republican response.

Even with interest in the speech heightened by the latest allegations of sexual impropriety by Clinton, Tuesday’s viewership reps a 14% drop in households vs. what the nets did in that slot the previous week with entertainment fare (a combined 33.1/49 vs. the previous week’s 38.6/59).

That opening helped UPN top its previous Tuesday rating by 18% with the sci-fi vidpic “The Warlord: Battle for the Galaxy” (2.6/4). “Warlord” equaled UPN’s best Tuesday rating in seven weeks. It was still less than half what rival WB earned for the night, and WB exactly doubled UPN in adults 18-49 (3.0/8 vs. a 1.5/4).

Since WB inherited several Sinclair Broadcasting stations from UPN, WB’s numbers have been benefiting from superior clearances.

According to WB, UPN’s “Warlord” was cleared Tuesday in 67% of the country, as compared to the WB lineup’s 88%.

WB’s record night started with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s” 4.9/8 (against pre-speech entertainment competition). That reps a modest 6% drop from the previous week’s 5.2/8, which was at the time the highest WB rating ever. “Buffy” beat CBS’ “JAG” rerun (6.0/9 in homes) for the hour in every major demo that does not include viewers 50 and over.

Then “Dawson’s Creek” flourished against the speech-coverage competition, increasing by 23% in homes vs. the previous-week “Dawson’s” premiere (which at the time tied as the third-highest-rated show in WB history). This second “Dawson’s” earned a monster 13.5/41 among female teens, a 10.3/31 in total teens, a 5.4/14 in women 18-34, and a 3.3/8 in adults 18-49, all WB records. The netlet also set nightlong records in men, women and adults demos in both the 18-34 and 18-49 breakouts, as well as female teens and total teens.

A WB official said the most expensive ad rate for “Dawson’s” Jan. 27 telecast (charged to advertisers buying at the last min-ute) was $130,000 for a 30-second blurb, vs. $100,000 for a :30 during the previous-week premiere.

The State of the Union ratings are not figured into regular network averages, since the speech aired unsponsored. Counting only sponsored programming, ABC won the night with a 10.0/17, followed by NBC’s 8.3/13, CBS’ 6.0/9, Fox’s 5.7/9, WB’s 5.4/8 and UPN’s 2.6/4.

Each household rating point represents an estimated 980,000 homes, or 1% of the country’s TV homes. Each adults 18-49 rating point reps 1.23 million viewers, 1% of the U.S. total. A share is the same sort of percentage, except it’s measured against only the homes or viewers watching TV during the timeslot involved.

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