Ad Men Target ‘Big Bang Theory,’ Football for Their Bucks

Marketers predict football, CBS sitcom will lap the primetime field next season as 'American Idol' declines

Advertisers Crystal Ball

TV advertisers are likely to pin their hopes this fall on a sitcom warhorse that is swiftly pulling away from the rest of the pack, despite its age.

CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory,” about to enter its seventh season, is viewed as the scripted program that will garner the most viewers for which advertisers will pay come the fall. While NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” will continue, unsurprisingly, to draw the biggest ad-watching audiences between the ages of 18 and 49, “Big Bang Theory” will follow immediately behind, according to a Variety survey of commercial-ratings estimates for the coming primetime schedule from four media-buying agencies. Not only is “Big Bang” expected to trounce Fox’s venerable “American Idol,” but it is also seen as likely to buoy CBS freshman comedy “The Millers” to possible hit status.

SEE MORE: It’s a Wrap: ‘Sunday Night Football,’ ‘Big Bang Theory’ and ‘NCIS’ Top Season Rankings

While program ratings continue to snare the attention of the viewing public and TV executives, advertisers find them less valuable. Since May 2007, sponsors and ad buyers have looked instead at the number of viewers 18 to 49 who watch a particular show within three days’ of its on-air debut — and don’t skip the ads. The measure known as C3 (or commercial ratings-plus-3) became part of negotiations between networks and their advertisers as increasing use of DVRs eroded viewership of programs, as well as the commercials that interrupt them.

The recently completed 2012-13 season was viewed with horror by many ad buyers. Indeed, as of June 16, season-to-date 18-to-49 ratings at the Big Four were down 10%, according to Nielsen.

Ad buyers sense fewer dramatic moves coming in the autumn. Ratings erosion may continue, but not at off-the-cliff levels. “I’d be surprised, and Lord knows I’ve been surprised before, but I don’t see any 25% drop in a network like we came close to seeing in this current season,” said Sam Armando, senior veep at media-research firm SMGx. Armando also doesn’t see any outsize gains, such as those NBC enjoyed last year when it put “The Voice” on in September for the first time. Instead, he expects improvements in specific time periods where the networks have moved proven returning shows into underperforming timeslots.

SEE MORE: CBS Reveals Fall Premiere Dates

“Big Bang” has clearly become more important to CBS in the past few seasons, vying with “American Idol” for ratings primacy on some nights in recent years — meaning it can wring more cash from sponsors. At the same time, it has played an instrumental role in helping the Eye establish a Thursday night beachhead for comedy, a block once housed primarily on Monday nights on CBS. Thursday, though, is the night movie studios and retailers depend upon to get the word out about Friday-night openings and weekend sales events.

This fall, CBS will expand its Thursday-night comedy block to two hours from one. Sandwiched between “Big Bang” at 8 p.m. and “Two and a Half Men” at 9:30 p.m. are “The Millers,” an 8:30 p.m. sitcom created by Greg Garcia that focuses on a divorced man whose parents move in with him, and “The Crazy Ones,” a comedy featuring Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar as a father and daughter working together at an ad agency.

When it comes to the fall schedule, advertisers are united in the idea that football carries the day. Not only does “Sunday Night Football” lead the pack, but Fox’s Sunday postgame “The OT” and the second hour of NBC’s pregame “Football Night in America” are among the top 10 programs expected to generate the most commercial viewing. Both nights of “The Voice” and Fox’s “American Idol” also make the list, as does ABC’s “Modern Family.”

Two freshman shows airing after big hits are also ranked, signaling that this season could have at least two programs considered to be breakouts. “The Millers” is expected to be the No. 9-rated program when it comes to attracting ad-watching 18-to-49ers. And NBC’s “The Blacklist” is seen tying the Thursday night edition of “American Idol” for 10th. The Monday night drama stars James Spader as a criminal genius who helps guide a rookie FBI profiler. “The Blacklist” is likely to garner support from having “The Voice” as its lead-in, as did last season’s “Revolution.”

Following “The Millers” and “The Blacklist” on buyers’ tout sheets are CBS’ “The Crazy Ones,” ABC’s midseason drama “Resurrection” and ABC’s Rebel Wilson starrer “Super Fun Night.”

In addition to CBS’ expanded comedy block on Thursday nights, ad buyers will also keep an eye on a number of series with big names attached to them, said SMGx’s Armando. CBS’ “The Crazy Ones” (Williams) and NBC’s “The Michael J. Fox Show” and “Sean Saves the World” (Sean Hayes) will “get a lot of eyes on the stars,” he said, in the season’s first weeks.