Fox, CBS challenge Peacock dominance

NBC has opened the season with its second straight victory in the key ratings category of adults 18-49, but the Peacock’s rivals are turning up the heat.

Prime challenger Fox appears poised to exit fall in a much more competitive position among that demo than a year ago (thanks in part to stronger postseason baseball ratings), CBS is roughly on par with NBC in adults 25-54, and ABC is the only broadcaster showing some year-to-year growth for each of the first two weeks.

Overall, troubling trends have emerged for the broadcast nets through the first two weeks, as they are off a collective 11% year-to-year in 18-34 and 14% in teens 12-17 — resulting in higher median ages for all six of them.

Cable has picked up some of the slack, but TV usage levels are also on the decline (down 8% in teens and 5% in 18-34), according to Nielsen.

The nets collectively are holding up a bit better in adults 18-49 (down 7% vs. last year) and 25-54 (off 5%) while viewership among 55-plus is flat year-to-year and usage up 1%.

These developments will make reaching younger viewers even more of a premium for the nets, as advertisers generally pay more for what’s harder to reach.

As for NBC, it still owns television’s top-rated night in adults 18-49 (Thursday) and last week produced 11 of the top 25 shows in the demo, but it is showing weakness Friday and Sunday with some of its new skeins.

According to Nielsen nationals for the week of Sept. 29-Oct. 5, the Peacock net’s 4.2 rating/12 share in adults 18-49 led the way in primetime, ahead of a crowded pack that saw baseball-boosted Fox (3.8/11) followed closely by ABC (3.7/10) and CBS (3.6/10).

CBS, although joining NBC in declining by double-digit percentages year-to-year in adults 18-49 and 18-34, is making a move in adults 25-54. Last week, the two nets tied for the 25-54 lead (4.8/12), with the Eye just 2% off last year’s pace.

CBS challenges NBC

And with football overruns, the Super Bowl and all-star “Survivor” still to come this season, CBS is positioned to challenge NBC for its first seasonlong 25-54 crown in 12 years.

CBS also is a runaway leader in overall audience, last week topping the next closest finisher by more than 2 million viewers. Eye’s “CSI” was again the most-watched program overall (26.66m).

ABC is doing well with its comedies, as its Tuesday and Friday lineups are clicking, and new Wednesday laffer “It’s All Relative” opened with promise last week. On the drama side, “Karen Sisco” didn’t have much of a kick in its bow, but Sunday newbie “10-8″ picked it up in week two.

Baseball a ratings hit

And Fox got back in the game in a big way, as Game 5 of the divisional series (Chicago Cubs-Atlanta Braves) was a ratings winner Sunday, positioning the net for more boffo ratings now that both the Cubs and New York Yankees are in baseball’s league championship series. Net led the week in all male demos.

Finales of “Paradise Hotel” and “Temptation Island” also chipped in with the top scores for both series.

Among the netlets, the WB easily defeated UPN among adults 18-34 (2.1/7 vs. 1.5/5), with both down more than 20% year-to-year. Thursday and Friday are showing big losses for UPN, while the Frog’s Tuesday is hemorrhaging in the early going.

Among new shows that have aired at least twice, the strongest performers overall relative to time period appear to be CBS drama “Joan of Arcadia” and the comedies “I’m With Her” and “Hope & Faith” on ABC and “All of Us” on UPN.

Also looking to be on solid or somewhat firm footing are Eye dramas “Cold Case” and “The Handler” and its comedy “Two and a Half Men,” NBC drama “Las Vegas,” UPN comedy “Eve” and the WB’s laffers “Steve Harvey’s Big Time” and “All About the Andersons.”

Jury’s out on duo

It’s still a bit early to tell on high-profile NBC comedies “Coupling” and “Whoopi.”

Shows needing to step it up include NBC’s “Miss Match,” CBS’ “Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.,” the WB’s “One Tree Hill” and UPN’s “Jake 2.0″ and “The Mullets.”

On the cable side, ESPN had a very big week courtesy of postseason baseball and its usual Sunday NFL game — averaging more viewers in primetime (4.51 million) than UPN and nearly catching the WB.

Among entertainment shows, top 18-49 scores came from three episodes of TLC’s “Trading Spaces” as well as Tuesday’s “Nip/Tuck” on FX.

Spike TV’s “faux reality” skein “The Joe Schmo Show” continues to pick up momentum, with last week’s delivery of 620,000 men 18-49 and 1.36 million viewers overall repping jumps of 71% and 60%, respectively, from its premiere a few weeks earlier.

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Fox, with postseason baseball, and ABC, with “Monday Night Football,” delivered solid numbers on Monday of this week but it was CBS that prevailed among young adults, powered by a season-best score for “CSI: Miami.” It’s the net’s first outright nightly 18-49 victory of the season.

“CSI: Miami” (6.8/17 in 18-49, 18.13m) easily led from 10 to 11, up 17% week-to-week and nearly doubling NBC’s “Third Watch” (3.5/9 in 18-49, 9.73m). CBS also won at 9 with “Everybody Loves Raymond” (5.9/15 in adults 18-49, 18.04m) and received second-place 18-49 finishes from its other comedies, including “Two and a Half Men” at 9:30 (4.8/11 in 18-49, 14.82m).

ABC ran second on the night, with “MNF” (6.0/16 in 18-49, 14.87m) on the low end of its ratings range, affected by Fox’s baseball playoff game between the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics (4.6/12 in 18-49, 13.03).

NBC was led by a strong “Fear Factor” (5.8/16 in adults 18-49, 13.29m), up year-to-year, and “Las Vegas,” which again looked solid at 9 (4.5/11) and was up over “Third Watch” last season.

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