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Low ratings mean woes at networks

Summer signals worst-ever season

The NBA playoffs are over, summer is here and the season of truly woeful primetime Nielsens is officially under way.

NBC has won the June 15-21 week with its lowest rating ever in a week not disrupted by political conventions, the Olympics or the July 4 holiday. CBS was second with its worst-ever rating in a non-disrupted week, and ABC took third with its worst-ever rating for any kind of week and second-worst in ABC-CBS-NBC history. (ABC still tied Fox for second place in adults 18-49, ahead of CBS.)

Fox, freed of NBA competition that was intercepting much of its core male 18-34 audience, actually improved over its previous-week score. WB slipped to its lowest-rated week since last August, and UPN fell to its worst since the 1996 Summer Olympics.

While network detractors attribute such low-water marks to lousy programming and too many reruns, the low Nielsens also reflect the growing number of viable channel choices in most U.S. homes, which give dissatisfied viewers an ever-wider array of alternatives (no one of which consistently approaches Big Four ratings levels).

Other factors contributing to these historic lows include the natural plunge in viewership levels that comes with summer weather and the ever-intensifying efforts by the broadcast webs to target audience segments most desirable to advertisers, which often means sacrificing some overall household ratings.

The week’s adults 18-49 averages were: NBC, 4.0 rating, 14 share (down 13% in rating vs. results for the same week last year); ABC, 2.9/10 (down 17%) tied with Fox, 2.9/10 (down 3%); CBS, 2.8/9 (up 4%); WB, 1.2/4 (even); UPN, 1.0/3 (down 23%).

National primetime 18-49 averages for the top cable services last week were: HBO, 1.2/4 (even); TNT, 0.9/3 (up 29%); USA, 0.8/3 (down 11%); ESPN, 0.7/3 (up 75%); TBS, 0.6/2 (down 14%).

NBC’s week-winning 4.0 rating in adults 18-49 was down sharply from the previous week’s NBA-boosted 7.7. On Wednesday, NBC managed less than half the 18-49 rating it had averaged on the three previous weeks with basketball (3.5 vs. 7.7), and on both Friday (2.5 vs. 7.6) and Sunday (3.8 vs. 11.5), NBC settled for less than one-third of what it had averaged with three weeks of hoops.


June 22 results saw CBS derail NBC’s Monday ratings express by scheduling “48 Hours” (8.2 rating, 14 share) opposite “Dateline NBC” (8.4/15), resulting in the lowest-rated Monday “Dateline” ever. It was only the second time in 11 weeks NBC has lost a Monday in adults 18-49. “48 Hours” won its slot in total viewers and beat CBS’ season slot average in adults 18-49 by 30%.

“20/20” (9.2/16) led ABC to the nightlong win, as newsmags scored the night’s three highest ratings in homes and adults 18-49. Among the Monday sitcoms fading to worst-ever ratings were NBC’s “Suddenly Susan” (4.7/9) and “Veronica’s Closet” (4.4/7), CBS’ “George & Leo” (4.3/7) and Fox’s “Damon” (3.3/6) and “Getting Personal” (3.2/6), while CBS’ “Cybill” (5.0/7) tied its worst-ever rating.


NBC’s test of 9-11 p.m. series programming sparked minor interest, with “Frasier” nearly catching “The X-Files” for the 9-9:30 18-49 lead. After that, NBC slipped to a mediocre third and ended the two-hour period down 15% in adults 18-49 vs. the same Sunday last year (“Honeymoon in Vegas”).

NBC started the night in the 18-49 lead with a 7-8 p.m. U.S. Open golf overrun.

Fox celebrated the end of Sunday basketball with its first 18-49 win on the night in five weeks, while CBS claimed its first Sunday households win in four weeks. The rate of viewers aged 18-49 using TV plunged from the previous Sunday’s NBA-boosted 37% to 30%.

ABC’s “Silent Fall” was the week’s top-rated film in adults 18-49, but the “Disney” pic “Born to Be Wild” got caged for ABC’s lowest households rating with firstrun fare on record in that slot.

CBS’ part one of “Million Dollar Babies” trailed six of the seven first-episode ratings of rerun multiple-partners airing on the nets last summer.


Fox made it five Saturdays in a row in the 18-49 lead, while CBS inched ahead in households.

ABC’s “Timecop” finished just a tenth of a point above the worst rating ever for a primetime entertainment telecast on ABC, CBS or NBC. It was ABC’s worst-ever in that timeslot.


“20/20” handed ABC the nightlong victory in homes and key demos as NBC faded without hoops. “Dateline” equaled its lowest Friday homes rating ever.

CBS’ strong mid-season newcomers “Kids Say the Darndest Things” and “Candid Camera” are losing some focus this summer, both recording lowest-yet scores last week. CBS still managed to add 18-49 audience with each Friday half-hour.


“Just Shoot Me” led NBC, improving slightly on its 18-49 lead-in from “Seinfeld.” That makes it the first series since “Friends” on Aug. 24, 1995, to build on the 18-49 lead-in of a 9 p.m. “Seinfeld.” “Shoot” was also the week’s top-rated show in that demo.

ABC suffered what’s apparently its lowest Thursday firstrun rating ever, as “C-16” matched the net’s worst figures on record for that slot and “Prey” hit what’s evidently ABC’s lowest regular-programming rating ever for that hour.


With the NBA playoffs out of the way, “PrimeTime Live” led ABC to its first Wednesday win in six weeks. CBS’ “Public Eye,” not on the fall schedule, won its hour in homes and just missed earning the night’s second-highest homes rating, behind only “PTL” and “Law & Order.”

Fox slipped to its lowest firstrun regular-sked Wednesday rating ever.


CBS almost stole the night from NBC with “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Movies”(Daily Variety, June 18). It was CBS’ most competitive Tuesday finish in the 18-49 demo without Olympic help since the Orange Bowl of Dec. 31, 1996.

NBC won the night with “Dateline,” the week’s highest-rated program.

ABC got what were apparently its worst-ever slot numbers for firstrun fare from the “Mulan” promo-special. That led to lowest network scores ever for “Home Improvement,” “Pizza Place” and “NYPD Blue.”

WB’s firstrun animated series “Invasion America” slipped by 11% in its second Tuesday try, down to WB’s lowest rating to date in that slot. “Invasion” still built on its lead-ins in most male and young-adult demos.


With “Dateline” leading the way June 15, NBC won its ninth Monday in 10 weeks in adults 18-49 (Daily Variety, June 17).

Each household rating point represents an estimated 980,000 homes, or 1% of the country’s TV homes. Each adults 18-49 rating point reps 1.23 million viewers, 1% of the U.S. total. A share is the same sort of percentage, except it measures only the homes or viewers watching TV during the timeslot involved.