As Powerful Lead-in, ‘The Voice’ a Key Programming Weapon in NBC’s Rise

'Game of Silence,' 'Strong' Bow Behind the Reality Hit This Week

The Voice
Courtesy of NBC

As viewers navigate their way through a maze of hundreds of original television series, networks do their part to provide guideposts. For NBC, “The Voice” does the trick.

For a few years now, television’s most popular reality competition series has helped funnel viewers into promising shows of all genres, but this season the network has doubled down. A whopping 10 programs — including two more this week — will have premiered immediately behind “The Voice.”

With a large, broad audience and a format that allows it to be played on several nights of the week, NBC’s No. 1-rated entertainment series is a natural-born lead-in. But even more important than how many people are watching “The Voice” each night (more than 12 million) is when they’re watching — and this is what makes it such a valuable programming weapon for the Peacock, the defending primetime champion in adults 18-49.

Roughly 76% of the “live plus same-day” rating among adults 18-49 for “The Voice” this season falls under the “live” column, according to a breakdown of Nielsen numbers provided by NBC, while the other 24% is time-shifted viewing later that night. That’s why “The Voice” actually rates higher in live viewing than CBS’ megahit comedy “The Big Bang Theory,” whose same-day viewing is about 60% live.

“People watch ‘The Voice’ live, so it’s a great way to get shows sampled because we know what the lead-ins are,” said Jeff Bader, President, Program Planning, Strategy and Research, NBC Entertainment. “If you look at the last 10 minutes of a show live, 14 of the top 20 telecasts this season were ‘The Voice.’ That’s why the overall numbers can be a little deceiving.”

What NBC is doing with “The Voice” has yet to be duplicated by other networks; ABC, for example, didn’t try anything new this winter behind young-female magnet “The Bachelor,” or Fox anything after megahit “Empire.” But it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been noticed.

“Fox (with ‘American Idol’) never took advantage of the incredible lead-in this way,” said one programmer at a rival network. “With (Fox) only programming two hours a night too, there weren’t as many opportunities to take swings behind it. To their credit, NBC can, and has, used “The Voice” just about anywhere.”

Of course since “Idol’s” heyday, the number of original programs across the dial has mushroomed, and it’s harder than ever to give a new series proper promotion. That’s why NBC decided rather late in the rollout process to add even a show like “Game of Silence,” about childhood friends reuniting to expose dark secrets from their past, to its list of “Voice” lead-outs.

“We knew it was going to be airing in a time period (Thursday at 10) where it’s going to be harder to get viewers in, and we’ve seen in our tracking that the awareness is not that great for the show right now,” said Bader. “So instead of running a repeat (of ‘Chicago Fire’) on a night we knew we had the two-hour ‘Voice’ (on April 12), we’re going with the preview.”

Another advantage to the previews is that there is little ratings pressure.

“We see the preview as being like a one-hour commercial for a show,” he said. “If It does a 1 rating, well that’s not great, but it’s a 1 rating of people that wouldn’t have seen it.”

So far this season, NBC has effectively used “The Voice” to help launch successful comedy “Superstore,” drama hits like “Blindspot” and “Chicago Med” and also called on it to lead into its Adele concert special in December, which drew 11.3 million viewers. This week in addition to Tuesday’s launch of “Game of Silence,” new reality competition “Strong” will get a special post-“Voice” preview Wednesday in advance of its regular timeslot premiere the next night.

“ ‘The Voice’ has been unbelievably important as we rebuild the network because it is our most important launch pad,” said Bader. “And now we actually have other launch pads that started out themselves as launch pads behind it.”

(Sampling of hit shows airing before 10 p.m.)

The Voice (NBC) ………………… 77%
American Idol (Fox) ……………… 75%
NCIS (CBS) ……………………… 73%
Empire (Fox) ……………………… 72%
The Amazing Race (CBS) ……… 71%
Once Upon a Time (ABC) ……… 66%
Modern Family (ABC) …………… 63%
The Big Bang Theory (CBS) …… 60%
Grey’s Anatomy (ABC) …………. 56%

Source: Nielsen