Fall TV gearing up for ratings battle

The ongoing controversy over “Kid Nation” offers one silver lining for CBS: Outrage over the under-age reality skein helped boost its awareness among TV viewers.

According to various studies floating around town, “Kid Nation” is now one of the most-recognized new skeins hitting the airwaves this fall.

But awareness isn’t everything.

When viewers are asked about their “intent to view” the “Lord of the Flies”-styled skein though, “Kid Nation” doesn’t score nearly as high.

Ditto ABC’s “Cavemen,” which is also one of the most recognized titles out there, thanks to those ubiquitous Geico commercials (but not among the top series in the “intent to view” column).

Yet “intent to view” reps the real yardstick in helping predict whether a new show will open big.

As the fall launch looms, net execs have started to pay attention to just how aware viewers are of the new fall shows, and whether those crowds plan to tune in. So far, NBC’s “Bionic Woman” looks to be the best combo of “awareness” and “intent to view.”

This info is critical intel in an age where viewers are being bombarded by noise from cable, the Internet and other non-broadcast sources. To make matters more difficult, the nets this year are debuting the lion’s share of their new product in the first two weeks of the new season.

And for many of the nets, summer circulation has been so low that it’s been tough to gauge whether they’ve been pimping their new skeins in a vacuum.

Awareness and intent to view can at least give a network some idea where they stand. But the info is hardly scientific.

“Awareness is pretty useless,” says one network exec. “Who cares how many people are aware of a show if they’re not going to watch it?”

Case in point: NBC’s new “Bionic” take leads at least two awareness studies circulating at the nets — with at least 50% of respondants recognizing the title.

But that’s no surprise since auds remember the 1970s TV version, or have least heard of it. Before the producers of “Bionic Woman” get too excited, however, they should remember the fate of CBS’ 2000 entry “The Fugitive.”

Buoyed by its past as a hit movie and classic TV series, the new “Fugitive” topped the awareness charts that fall, while a new show called “CSI” barely registered. “Fugitive,” of course, collapsed, while “CSI” turned into a juggernaut.

” ‘Bionic Woman’ is the most glaring example — none of it is accurate,” an exec says. “It has high awareness and high intent to view, but that’s based on a show that was on the air 30 years ago.”

It’s telling that several of the top “intent to view” shows are attached to a known franchise.

Besides “Bionic,” that includes two of the Wednesday shows it’s up against, the “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff “Private Practice” and the Fox reality entry “Kitchen Nightmares,” starring “Hell’s Kitchen” chef Gordon Ramsay. (That could make for one crowded hour if everyone follows through on their intentions.)

Data can also vary depending on how much info is given to respondents. Viewers might not know what “Private Practice” is, but once they’re asked about ” ‘Private Practice’ — the spin-off to ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ ” those numbers shoot up.

Awareness and intent-to-view numbers are most valuable to marketers, who read them as report cards on whether their messages are reaching and registering with the right people.

If awareness is low, the campaign isn’t hitting the right spots. If awareness is high but intent to view is low, then you’re not marketing the show properly (or, quite frankly, the series isn’t that compelling). And if awareness is low but intent to view is high, at least you’re hitting the right demo — now start expanding on it.

“It’s all directional if something is working or not,” an exec says.

The most accurate figures are most likely for shows that don’t come with any existing baggage — no pre-existing franchise, and no big stars. That’s a good sign for shows like “Pushing Daisies,” which registers high in both awareness and intent to view — even though it’s an entirely new concept starring lesser-known thesps.

Of course, even “intent to view” is thrown out the window in week two. By then, the networks have a more reliable yardstick to measure viewer interest: Nielsen.

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