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Upscale viewers enrich CBS, ABC

Nets gain on Peacock

ABC and CBS aren’t only attracting a larger audience this fall, they’re adding the kind of upscale viewers that advertisers crave.

With their traditional appeal to Middle America, the Alphabet and Eye webs have long lagged urbane industry leader NBC in the Nielsen measurements that drive ad rates. But both are making inroads in key categories — although not necessarily at the Peacock’s expense.

NBC still possesses primetime’s highest-indexing drama (“The West Wing”), comedy (“Will & Grace”) and reality show (“The Apprentice”), with the latter also helping vet drama “ER” deliver better upscale numbers this year. But the net could lose its grip in these categories if it adds more fare like “Fear Factor” and weight-loss skein “The Biggest Loser,” as both index well below the average for NBC’s hit scripted skeins.

According to Nielsen’s NAD data (National Audience Demographic) for the first six weeks of the season, ABC has moved into a tie with NBC for the lead in adults 18-49 with income of $75,000-plus and four years of college (4.5 rating), with CBS at a 4.2 and Fox (whose big series guns have yet to bow) at a 1.7.

CBS, meanwhile, has moved to the front of the class when it comes to attracting the most overall viewers with incomes of $100,000 or more as well as the largest number of adults 25-54 in this category.

What every net wants most, of course, is shows that rate high among the advertiser-desired 18-49 demo while at the same time attracting an upscale aud. This is where the Peacock has ruled the roost for years, commanding by far the most upfront coin.

ABC and CBS are both up more than 20% year-to-year in the 18-49 category, while NBC has eased by 8%. In indexes, which measure the concentration of upscale viewers relative to all of the primetime aud, NBC’s 117 is still ahead of ABC (110) and CBS (104), with all three up vs. last year. Fox (76) is down from last year’s 94.

(To arrive at the index, a rating among adults 18-49 in the $75,000-plus group is divided by its overall 18-49 rating, generating an index. One higher than 100 means it has a bigger chunk of upscale viewers than the general 18-49 TV-viewing population.)

“The Apprentice” (which hadn’t bowed at this time last year) is a big reason why NBC is still on top in some categories, as its 12.1 rating in the $75K 18-49 demo ranks second among all primetime programs behind ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” (12.6). Rounding out the top five are CBS’ “CSI” (10.6), NBC’s “ER” (10.3) and CBS’ “CSI: Miami” (109).

Of note in this category is that NBC’s “Law & Order” (6.2) and CBS’ “CSI: NY” (6.3) are on even ground even though the latter first-year show has a clear advantage in pure 18-49 averages (6.4 vs. 4.7) in their high-profile head-to-head showdown.

For ABC, its rise coincides with nice additions including the smash dramas “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” as well as “Boston Legal” and “Wife Swap” — the highest-indexing new drama and reality series of the fall, respectively.

“Legal,” although losing a big chunk of its inherited upscale lead-in from “Housewives,” is easily defeating competing Sunday-at-10 drama “Crossing Jordan” on NBC among upscale 18-49ers (6.5 rating vs. 4.8) even though the “Legal” advantage in all 18-49ers is scant (4.6 vs. 4.5).

“The Bachelor” and “NYPD Blue” remain upscale draws for the Alphabet despite overall ratings declines, and the new “Lost” is doing well (6.5 rating, 107 index among $75,000K-plus 18-49ers with four years of college) — especially for an 8 o’clock drama.

For CBS, shows like “NCIS,” “60 Minutes” and “Two and a Half Men” are performing better than a year ago, and new comedy “Listen Up,” while not a ratings dynamo, is an above-average upscale performer for the net.

As for the $100K breakouts, CBS ranks No. 1 in all households with a 9.3 rating (up 15% year-to-year), followed by NBC (8.6, down 2%) and ABC (7.8, up 11%), according to Nielsen NAD estimates. The Eye notes that this season marks the first time in eight years it’s been on top by this measure.

Among adults 25-54 in this category, CBS has tied NBC with a 5.2 rating, with the Eye up 11% and the Peacock off 4%; ABC is up 17% to a 4.8. In this measurement, “Desperate Housewives” (13.7) again edges out “CSI” (13.5), with “The Apprentice” (12.1) and “ER” (12.0) and “CSI: Miami” (10.9) rounding out the top five.

It’s too early to read much into Fox’s upscale numbers as “The OC,” “The Simpsons” and others aren’t included, but both “North Shore” and “The Swan 2” come in above the net’s average.

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