HOLLYWOOD — There are several reasons why NBC is a solid favorite to retain its primetime leadership position in the upcoming season, but perhaps the biggest is that the network of both “Fear Factor” and “The West Wing” is easily the most balanced.
Although it has skewed older in recent years, NBC aims to serve all the 18-49 demo that most closely translates to advertising revenue. Chief challengers Fox and CBS, on the other hand, are strong in only half of this demo.
For example, according to Nielsen figures for the 2002-03 season, the Eye delivered the same 11 share as the Peacock in 35-49 but trailed badly in the 18-34 set (8 share vs. 12), while reality-driven Fox actually beat NBC in 18-34 (13 to 12) but couldn’t keep up among the older subset (10 vs. 12).
And then there’s ABC, which has struggled in recent seasons but, like NBC, is now exhibiting a good balance (10 share in 18-34 and 11 in 35-49). If the Alphabet can find some hits, they figure to come in both halves of the 18-49 demo, making the net potentially more dangerous for their rivals than some might think.
As for individual shows, only five series last season — Fox’s “Joe Millionaire” and “American Idol,” NBC’s “Friends” and “ER” and CBS’ “CSI” — averaged a 20 share or better in both 18-34 and 35-49. Each of these shows were big, broad hits that defined their respective networks.
If one half of the demo is more important, it has to be 18-34. Not only is this audience harder to reach, and thus more valuable to advertisers, but if you can grab them early, they’ll fit into the 18-49 bracket for years to come.
During the 2002-03 season, 10 of the top 12 programs among adults 18-49 garnered a higher share among 18-34s than 35-49s, with only a pair of CBS shows (“CSI” and “Survivor”) bucking the trend and faring better among the older half of the demo.
The age of 35 is something of a cultural dividing line, especially when it comes to CBS and Fox, and to a lesser extent, to scripted and unscripted programs.
Through six weeks this summer, for example, CBS claims only three of the top 30 programs among adults 18-34 but possesses nine of the top 30 among adults 35-49. The contrast is even starker at Fox, which has 12 of the top 30 in adults 18-34 but only “American Juniors” in the top 30 among 35-49ers.
NBC, again, is the most balanced — thanks primarily to a handful of unscripted skeins, which are taking the place of drama repeats on its sked. Net has 14 of the top 30 in 18-34 and 16 of the top 30 in 35-49.
And among genres, unscripted or “reality” programming on the major nets accounts for 13 of the top 30 programs among the 18-34 crowd but just seven of the top 30 among 35-49s. In other words, while none of the summer’s unscripted shows is a smash hit overall, they’re looking much more like powerhouses in the 18-34 column.
CBS is the exception when it comes to reality skews, as each of its unscripted skeins in recent years — “Survivor,” “Big Brother,” “Amazing Race” and “Star Search” — has performed better among 35-49ers than 18-34s.
Still, these are the Eye’s youngest-skewing shows, and they provide a youthful jolt to a net that would skew even older without them. Net also has high hopes for new dating show “Cupid,” which premiered last week and figures to skew young.
In much the same way that a Fox victory next season requires the net to do more than just beat up on its opponents in 18-34, CBS must look to shows like “Cupid” and more consistently address the under-35 group if it’s to make a run at NBC in the 18-49 demo derby.