NEW YORK — Showtime is fingering the prayer beads with more fervor than usual for its highly promoted new series “Odyssey 5” and “Street Time” because the network’s primetime ratings have fallen a dizzying 17% from January through mid-June.
Columbia TriStar’s sci-fi adventure “Odyssey 5,” starring Peter Weller, got off to a solid start in its June 21 premiere, averaging 791,000 primetime households, which is well above the 563,000 homes in the time period for the previous four weeks and 489,000 homes a year ago (May 28-July 1).
“Street Time,” an urban melodrama starring Rob Morrow, also produced by Col TriStar TV, delivered 690,000 households in its June 23 premiere, outdistancing the 545,000 homes watching in the time period during the previous four weeks and the 587,000 for 2001 (May 28-July 1).
Showtime needs these two shows to become hits because the net’s entire primetime sked is averaging only 426,000 homes for the year to date (Dec. 31, 2001, through June 16, 2002). That number translates into only a 1.9 rating in cable homes — 17% below the 2.3 for the same period a year ago.
By contrast, HBO averaged 1.686 million homes (a 4.9 rating) for the year to date, a 5% increase over last year’s household figure (and a 2% jump in rating).
“Showtime’s main problem is that its original series haven’t caught on like HBO’s hit shows,” said Jim Stroud, media analyst and president of Blackbird Communications, citing such high-rated HBO bellwethers as “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City.”
Larry Gerbrandt, senior analyst for Kagan World Media, said that Showtime’s reliance on original series is a surefire recipe for lower ratings because “the Nielsens numbers for pay TV networks are still driven to a large extent by theatrical movies.”
Under long-term contracts with only Paramount and MGM, Showtime has far fewer output deals than its two chief competitors, HBO and Starz!, so its ratings are more vulnerable. Since 1997, when Showtime averaged a 3.5 rating in primetime, the net’s primetime Nielsens have plunged by 46%, compared to HBO’s dip of 23.5%.
Showtime declined to make any executives available for comment. But the network has said in the past that as more households sign up for digital cable and satellite TV, hundreds of additional channels are added to their viewing menu. The resulting fragmentation of the viewer’s attention has eaten into the ratings of all networks, both broadcast or cable.