Ratings meaningless until up against competish, insider sez

HOLLYWOOD — While ratings for the first three syndie debuts have failed to dazzle, syndicators and station execs alike claim it’s too early to deem any of them hits or misses.

“We can’t expect a new program to go into a new time period and immediately improve upon the performance of established fare,” says Garnett Losak, VP and director of programming for Petry Media Corp. “Of course, it would be nice.”

By that standard, “Iyanla,” “Crossing Over With John Edward” and “ShipMates” are all turning in par perfs.

“Iyanla,” which debuted Aug. 13, has averaged a 1.4 rating/5 share among weighted metered markets for its first 3.5 weeks, according to Nielsen. Perf reps a 30% ratings dip from the show’s lead-in. It also reps an 18% rating dip compared with what the show’s time periods were doing in September 2000.

“Crossing Over,” starring psychic medium Edward, is averaging a 1.5/4 weighted metered market average in its first eight days. That’s down 12% from both its lead-in and year-ago time period average. The show debuted Aug. 27.

And “ShipMates,” in its first eight days starting Aug. 27, is averaging a 1.0/3, which is down 17% from both lead-in and time period.

Many researchers agree with Losak. They point to the fact that since the June 1996 debut of “Rosie” — the last out-of-the-box hit in weekday firstrun syndication — circumstances in the business have changed dramatically. “Rosie”-like debuts now are considered extreme long shots.

Among the factors dogging syndication: Competish for viewers is at an all-time high; syndicators rarely can assemble a lineup of ideal stations and time periods at launch; and distribs now must chase upgrades from the get-go.

Thus, syndicators look to individual market performances for the silver lining. A strong perf in Seattle, for example, can serve as artillery when shooting for an upgrade on a Portland station.

Indeed distributors already are touting local victories.

Studios USA Domestic TV, for example, points to “Crossing Over’s” improvement over its “Early Show” lead-in in Philadelphia. “Crossing Over’s” eight-day average there, a 2.6/8, bests “Early Show’s” 2.3/7.

Buena Vista touts the fact that talker “Iyanla” often builds upon its lead-in ratings in markets where the show airs in late-fringe, even though HUT (Homes Using Television) levels dip.

And in New York, Columbia TriStar TV Distribution’s dating skein “ShipMates” in late fringe builds on its “Blind Date” lead-in.

The newcomers are considered early debutantes, getting their starts while most shows are in repeats. Their distributors put them out there hoping to get a jump-start on viewer sampling.

Considering that fact, one insider says she considers the ratings so far somewhat meaningless. “The performances don’t mean anything until the shows are up against their real competition,” she says.

The other new syndie contenders are on their way: The next two strips on deck, King World’s “The Ananda Lewis Show” and NBC’s “The Other Half,” roll out this week. Most of the remaining newcomers, such as “Elimidate,” “Card Sharks” and “Rendez-View,” preem a week later.

As the new skeins roll out, Losak says she’ll scrutinize ratings but will not be putting her thumbs up or down anytime soon.

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