Won in a ‘Million’

ABC's sweeps victory is net's first since '95

Powered by the whammo perf of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” ABC Tuesday officially claimed victory in the do-or-die game called sweeps — the first time that’s happened since before Disney took over the net in 1995.

While Nielsen won’t deliver its final answer on November’s numbers until Thursday, ABC is guaranteed to finish the ratings frame a solid first with the Madison Avenue-coveted demo of adults 18-49, among all TV households and in total viewers. The Alphabet’s last sweeps victory in the key demo was back in November 1994.

The win is particularly gratifying for ABC, which has been mired in third place until recently, and has undergone several painful exec transitions over the past two years.

ABC Entertainment Television Group co-topper Stu Bloomberg acknowledged Tuesday that the stunning success of “Millionaire” was obviously “the driving force” behind ABC’s win, but he dismissed barbs from the competish suggesting the quizzer was the only thing worth celebrating in ABC’s November performance.

“A year ago we were No. 3 … and now we’re only 9% behind NBC (season-to-date),” said Bloomberg, arguing that such a feat couldn’t have been accomplished without the success of Storyline’s remake of “Annie” and strong showings from series such as “The Practice,” “Spin City” and “Dharma & Greg.”

Co-topper Lloyd Braun added that in light of “the shrinking network universe … the fact that (ABC) has been performing the way it has been is very reassuring to us.”

ABC also said “Millionaire” did have some halo effect, helping supply season-high ratings for 13 of 17 ABC series this month.

And while other nets might try to discount the fact that “Millionaire” boosted ABC to a sweeps win, the fact is, the show will soon be a regular part of the ABC lineup, where it will be able to do regular damage to the competish. By contrast, nets have frequently won sweeps with limited-run hits — think “Roots” or the Winter Olympics — that disappear once the ratings period is over.

As for the numbers, through 26 nights of the four-week sweep, ABC is averaging a 5.9 rating, 15 share in adults 18-49, up 18% vs. last year and enough to guarantee victory over NBC (5.5/14, down 7% after 26 nights).

ABC is also dominating among households, with a 9.9/16 (up 14%), but the race for second between CBS (9.1/15, down 4%) and NBC (9.1/15, down 4%) is expected to go down to the wire.

The 18-49 order behind ABC and NBC is Fox, 6.6/11 (down 16%); CBS, 3.9/10 (down 5%); UPN, 1.6/4 (up 45%); and the WB, 1.6/4 (down 16%). In homes behind ABC, CBS and NBC, it’s Fox, 6.6/10 (down 15%); the WB, 2.9/5 (down 15%); and UPN, 2.6/4 (up 30%).

ABC’s competish sought to downplay the net’s sweeps win in various ways.

NBC execs were subtle, with Peacock Entertainment prexy Garth Ancier warning that “Millionaire” could soon become “humdrum” once it becomes a regular series.

Eye execs were more direct. While congratulating ABC on its victory, CBS topper Leslie Moonves said that “without that one show in there, it would be quite a different story.

“It points out why we think sweeps is a ridiculous measurement,” he added.

Handicapping results

CBS research head David Poltrack pointed out that “Millionaire” averaged a 15.0 homes rating in slots where ABC normally averages a 6.7. “That essentially makes the entire valuation of ABC (this month) useless to ad agencies and advertisers,” Poltrack said during an Eye teleconference with journos, noting that the ad community is looking for ways to “handicap” the sweeps results for ABC stations to help filter out “Millionaire’s” impact.

With the Regis Philbin-hosted “Millionaire” red hot, and now set to return next month as a regular skein (Daily Variety, Nov. 30), other webs continue to react. The latest casualty: NBC’s lavish 10-hour mini “The Tenth Kingdom.”

Once designed as the centerpiece of the Peacock’s February sweeps plans, the Hallmark Entertainment-produced project is being shifted to the latter part of the sweep, with 4 of its 10 hours now set to air after the ratings frame ends.

NBC execs conceded the move was in part a reaction to “Millionaire,” which trounced the first hour of the Peacock’s big November mini “Leprechauns” and put a crimp in other big sweeps events which aired opposite the quizshow. Airing the mini later in the month will give NBC “a better chance of promoting it” during other sweeps programming, NBC Entertainment prexy Garth Ancier said.

Other observers doubted that “Millionaire” was the sole impetus for the “10th Kingdom” shuffle, noting that the overall poor perf of “Leprechauns” and early negative buzz from those who’ve seen previews of “10th Kingdom” may have contributed to NBC’s decision.

“Being the skeptic that I am, maybe ‘Leprechauns'” lack of success had something to do with it,” said CBS’ Moonves.

While “Millionaire” dominated the sweep (and Tuesday’s sweeps conference calls), there were other results worth noting.

The WB suffered sizable declines this sweeps, but argued most of the downturn is largely attributable to the loss of Chicago superstation WGN as a WB affil. If last year’s contribution to WB numbers from WGN are factored out, the netlet breaks even through 25 nights of sweeps in homes and adults 18-49 and shows small gains in the target demos of women 12-34 and women 18-34.

Fox struggled through November, but did improve solidly over its dismal September and October results, and still leads the sweeps in the valuable adults 18-34 demographic.

UPN grapples with gains

UPN’s huge gains are mostly attributable to Thursday wrestling, but even with wrestling factored out of its results, the netlet would be up an estimated 18% in adults 18-49 (1.3/3 vs. 1.1/3) and by a tenth in homes (2.1/3 vs. 2.0/3).

Cable impact, too

One positive for the broadcast networks during November: Cable competition may have taken a bigger hit than the nets from “Millionaire” competition. CBS’ Poltrack estimates significantly more than half of the quizshow’s gains came at the expense of cable and other non-net sources.

Cable’s top-rated services were down on average in November, apparently the first time that’s happened in a major sweeps month since the 1998 Winter Olympics. As a category, though, basic cable managed modest growth, with a 3.6% gain in households vs. last year (a 22.9 homes rating for all of ad-supported cable vs. last year’s 22.1).

NBC touted continuing leadership by its local stations in late news, with a 10.2/20 homes average in Nielsen’s 47 metered markets (down 2% from last November) vs. a 7.9/15 for ABC stations (down 9%) and a 7.2/14 for CBS stations (up 1%).

The Peacock web delivered the sweeps month’s highest 10:30-11 p.m. lead-in to local news among adults 18-49, averaging a 7.3 rating vs. a 5.2 for both ABC and Fox (9:30-10 p.m. for Fox) and a 4.0 for CBS.

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