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Madison Avenue Bets on ‘American Idol’ to Lead Freshman TV Shows

Madison Avenue is betting an old warhorse can gain new traction on the TV schedule.

Variety survey of commercial-ratings projections for the 2017-2018 broadcast TV season finds ad buyers believe the retooled version of “American Idol,”  slated to air on ABC early next year, will generate the most commercial viewership of any freshman program. The survey, constructed using estimates from three large media-buying agencies, examines the primetime grid for the most viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 who watch advertising. That age range represents the demographic coveted most by advertisers.  Projections for the highest commercial viewership among new programs follows below:

     HIGHEST PROJECTED C3 RATINGS for FRESHMAN SHOWS, 2017-18

      1.  AMERICAN IDOL SUNDAY, ABC, 1.86

      2.  AMERICAN IDOL MONDAY, ABC, 1.84

      3.  LAW & ORDER: TRUE CRIME, NBC 1.65

     4.  RISE, NBC, 1.65

     5.  YOUNG SHELDON, CBS, 1.52

     6.  FOR THE PEOPLE, ABC, 1.44

     7.  THE BRAVE, NBC,  1.42

     8.  9JKL, CBS, 1.38

     9.  THE GOOD DOCTOR, ABC, 1.36

     10.’ GREY’S’ SPINOFF, ABC, 1.31

Source: A Variety survey of three top media buying agencies

To be sure, advertisers aren’t necessarily worshiping the “Idol” revival. The Variety survey has the Sunday broadcast of the musical-competition program earning a 1.86 rating among viewers between 18 and 49 who watch ad breaks, and a 1.84 on Monday. The commercial ratings, also known in the industry as “C3” because they measure views up to three days after an initial broadcast, are not on par with the ratings estimates for freshman shows last season. In 2016, ad buyers projected Fox’s “Star” would earn a 3.33, for example, while CBS’ freshman season of “Kevin Can Wait” was seen notching a 2.24.

HIGHEST PROJECTED C3 RATINGS FOR FRESHMAN SHOWS, 2016-17

    1.  STAR, FOX, 3.33

    2.  KEVIN CAN WAIT, CBS,  2.24

    3.  TIMELESS,  NBC,  2.18

   4.  NOTORIOUS, ABC, 1.88

   5.  PRISON BREAK, FOX, 1.77

   6.  SON OF ZORN, FOX, 1.7

   7.  MAN WITH A PLAN, CBS, 1.67

   8.  GREAT INDOORS, CBS 1.66

   9.  24: LEGACY, FOX,  1.62

   10. DESIGNATED SURVIVOR, ABC, 1.55

Source: A Variety survey of three top media buying agencies

The metric has been the foundation upon which ad prices are established since 2007, when Madison Avenue forced a measurement change on the industry to accommodate the rising amount of viewing done with the help of digital video recorders. As more viewers have turned to streaming video in subsequent years, “C7” has also gained traction in ad deals.

“American Idol’s” new path is under heavy scrutiny. Fox scrapped the program in 2016 after the fan base for the TV behemoth began to dissipate. “Idol” at one time drew 30 million viewers. By its final season, however, it was averaging 11 million. ABC executives have indicated they think “Idol” will serve well alongside the network’s other unscripted franchises, “The Bachelor”and “Dancing with the Stars.”

With “C3” projections of 1.86 and 1.84, “Idol” is expected to fare better than most shows on the next sesaon’s schedule, but not as well as it had when it was in its prime.

Advertisers are also banking on NBC’s new “Law & Order” extension, “Law & Order: True Crime.” The limited run eight-episode series stars Edie Falco in a dramatization of the legal proceedings involving Eric and Lyle Menendez, convicted in 1996 of the murder of their parents. NBC has billed the Dick Wolf-produced effort as an anthology series that could surface again around new crimes and trials.

Past surveys have identified durable performers such as ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” and NBC’s “The Blacklist.” The top two picks for last year’s survey, Fox’s “Star,” and CBS’ “Kevin Can Wait,” have thrived.  But ad buyers have seen some of their past bets miss. Buyers projected NBC’s “State of Affairs,” a spy drama starring Katherine Heigl, would lead among scripted dramas for the 2014-2015 TV season. The show did not return for a second season.

ABC is expected to have the most freshman hits. In addition to “Idol,” ad buyers expect “For the People,” a legal drama produced under the auspices of Shonda Rhimes; “The Good Doctor,” a medical serial about an autistic young doctor; and a spin-off of long-running “Grey’s Anatomy” centered on Seattle firefighters to fare well in the coming season (No title has been decided upon for the program, according to a spokesperson for Shondaland, the production company behind the show, but some ad buying firms are referring to it as ‘Grey’s Rescue’). Two NBC dramas make the list. “Rise,” from “Friday Night Lights” producer Jason Katims, tells the story of a teacher who inspires a town through a school’s theater department,” while “The Brave” is a military drama. Two CBS sitcoms, “The Big Bang Theory” spinoff “Young Sheldon” and “9JKL,” a comedy centered on a family living in adjacent apartments, round out the list.

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