Madison Avenue has always viewed TV as something of a sure bet. This fall, however, fewer of TV’s biggest programs are making advertisers feel confident.

Variety survey of commercial-ratings projections for the 2018-19 broadcast-network TV season finds that media buyers believe only a few top programs will build on audiences from last year. Among the programs they are betting on: NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and a new run of “Thursday Night Football” games on Fox. Otherwise, media buyers predict so-called “commercial viewing,” also known in the industry as “C3” because it includes live viewership plus three more days of views, will fail to match live-viewing totals from last season for top-draw programming ranging from “Sunday Night Football to “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Commercial ratings are typically smaller than live viewership because they do not include that part of the audience that skips past commercials. Even so, comparing them to live ratings demonstrates the challenges networks will grapple with in weeks to come. Projections for “C3” are also smaller than those made in many cases for last season. One notable exception is NBC’s “This Is Us,” which buyers expect to exceed what they had estimated it would generate in the 2017-2018 season.

The Variety commercial-rating projections are culled by using estimates from three top media-buying agencies, which negotiate prices for and placement of billions of dollars in TV commercials each year.

TV’s Biggest Commercial-Ratings Programs, 2018-2019
SHOW C3 A18-49
(Projection for 2018-2019)
LIVE A18-49
(Sept 2017 – May 2018)
Sunday Night Football (NBC) 5.79 6.2
Thursday Night Football (FOX) 4.6 4.5*/4.0*
The OT (FOX) 3.8 3.8
Football Night In America (NBC) 3.28 4.3
This Is Us (NBC) 3.03 5.4
Big Bang Theory (CBS) 2.36 4.4
The Good Doctor (ABC) 2.27 3.4
Young Sheldon (CBS) 2.13 3.4
The Conners (ABC) 2.0 5.0*
The Voice – Monday (NBC) 1.91 2.6
Grey’s Anatomy (ABC) 1.9 3.4
Will & Grace (NBC) 1.82 2.8
9-1-1 (FOX) 1.81 3.0
The Voice – Tuesday (NBC) 1.78 2.3
Empire (FOX) 1.67 2.6
Saturday Night Live (NBC) 1.6 1.36*
American Idol (FOX) 1.57 2.0
The Simpsons (FOX) 1.54 1.7
Splitting Up Together (ABC) 1.53 1.8
The Bachelor (ABC) 1.52 2.4
*CBS/NFL Network; *NBC/NFL Network; *Roseanne; *Originals
Source: Estimates from as many as three large media-buying firms

Both “SNL” and “Thursday Night Football” have singular circumstances that could help drive projected gains. Since the end of its 42nd season, “SNL” has aired live across the country, starting at 11:30 p.m. eastern, creating a bigger linear audience for the venerable satire-and-comedy show. Meanwhile, “TNF” is about to start a new run under a five-year pact struck between the NFL and Fox. For the past two seasons, the league divvied up a run of Thursday-night games between CBS and NBC – and the match-ups were of lesser quality when compared t    o Sunday and Monday matches airing on CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN.

The football predictions will no doubt be welcomed by the NFL. The average audience for a football broadcast in the league’s 2017 season came to 14.9 million, according Nielsen – a dip of 9.7% when compared with the average of 16.5 million viewers who watched a game during the regular season in 2016. Viewership of regular season games fell 8% the prior year. The Madison Avenue projection comes as the NFL continues to grapple with the cultural fallout of some of its players protesting police brutality and other social injustice issues during the playing of the national anthem .

Most TV programs continue to be judged based on the performance of Nielsen’s traditional audience ratings, which are widely referenced in the industry and in the media. In reality, however, advertisers’ focus has moved to the so-called C3 (commercial ratings plus three) measure. Since May 2007, sponsors and ad buyers have made the number of viewers who watch a particular show within three days’ of its on-air debut — and don’t skip through the ads – the basis for many of their commercial deals. The C3 rating became part of negotiations between networks and their advertisers as the rise of DVRs eroded viewership of programs – not to mention the commercials that interrupt them. In many cases, a measure known as “C7” that takes into account ad views for up to a week after an initial airing is the basis for pacts, and has become a new choice as streaming video and mobile devices spur even more time-shifted viewing.

Linear TV viewership continues to decline as technology allows couch potatoes to roll over to new screens to watch their video favorites. To be sure, thousands of people continue to watch “Empire” and “The Good Doctor” live as they air, but some portion of that group continues an inexorable exodus to streaming video and mobile devices.

These C3 projections should not be taken as gospel. The bulk of football ad pacts are based on live ratings, owing to the fact that only a sliver of the games’ audience time-shifts, though some buyers have suggested “C3” is used in some agreements. And simply put, there’s no guarantee advertisers will track viewership patterns exactly.

Other findings from Variety’s annual survey:

*NFL broadcasts continue to provide TV’s biggest crowds. Advertisers project NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” Fox’s “Thursday Night Football,” Fox;’s “O.T” Sunday post-game show and NBC’s “Football Night in America” pre-game program will garner TV’s most sizeable ratings this season.

*NBC’s “This Is Us,” CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory” and ABC’s “The Good Doctor” are projected to be the scripted programs that generate the best “C3” this TV season.

*Advertisers have placed an unusual amount of confidence in the second season of ABC comedy “Splitting Up Together,” which just launched in March.

*Madison Avenue believes “The Conners” will be the best-viewed among TV’s freshman programs, followed by NBC’s “Manifest,”a mysterious drama about a planeload of people who find themselves fast-forwarded in time by five years; “The Kids Are Alright,”an ABC sitcom about a family navigating the challenges of 1973; and CBS’ reboot of “Murphy Brown.”

The Conners (ABC) 2.0
Manifest (NBC) 1.38
The Kids are Alright (ABC) 1.34
Murphy Brown (CBS) 1.21
Single Parents (ABC) 1.2
New Amsterdam (NBC) 1.12
The Fix (ABC) 1.07
Schooled (ABC) 1.05
A Million Little Things (ABC) 1.04
God Friended Me (CBS) .98
Source: Estimates from as many as three large media-buying firms

Here’s a comprehensive chart examining Variety’s C3 projections for the bulk of shows slated for the coming season. The scheduling for some of the programs have not been formally announced, but are based on buyer expectations. Mid-season programs are in italics.


Takeaway: NBC will dominate the night in the first part of the season, thanks to football. But Fox’s “The Simpsons” and CBS’ “60 Minutes” are not to be dismissed. Fox’s new entries “REL” and “Cosmos” will have to fight for turf.
7PM America’s Funniest Home Videos .84
8PM Dancing with the Stars Juniors .83
9PM Shark Tank .98
10PM The Alec Baldwin Show .55
Grand Hotel .60
7PM 60 Minutes 1.47
8PM God Friended Me .98
9PM NCIS: Los Angeles 1.01
10PM Madam Secretary .73
8PM Supergirl .51
9PM Charmed .43
7PM The O.T 3.8
8PM The Simpsons 1.54
8:30PM Bob’s Burgers 1.35
9PM Family Guy 1.42
9:30PM REL .93
Cosmos .96
7PM Football Night in America 3.28
8PM Sunday Night Football 5.79
Takeaway: ABC’s “Good Doctor” remains the powerhouse of the night, supplemented by “Dancing With The Stars,” and later-in-the-season help from “American Idol” and “The Bachelor.” But NBC’s “The Voice” remains a viable competitor, as does the second season of Fox’s ‘9-1-1.’
8PM Dancing With The Stars 1.17
American Idol – Monday 1.57
The Bachelor 1.52
10PM The Good Doctor 2.27
The Fix 1.07
8PM The Neighborhood .97
8:30PM Happy Together .86
9PM Magnum P.I. .95
10PM Bull 1.02
8PM DC’s Legends of Tomorrow .48
9PM Arrow .34
8PM The Resident 1.11
9PM 9-1-1 1.81
The Passage .69
8PM The Voice 1.91
10PM Manifest 1.38
Takeaway: NBC will dominate thanks to a Tuesday edition of “The Voice” and, of course, “This Is Us.” Madison Avenue thinks ABC’s “Roseanne” reboot will be significantly weaker than last year’s effort that included Roseanne Barr, but the point may be moot. “The Conners” is seen generating a better “C3” audience than anything else on the night – and lending some ballast to “The Kids Are Alright.”
8PM The Conners 2.0
8:30PM The Kids Are Alright 1.34
9PM Black-Ish 1.25
9:30PM Splitting Up Together 1.53
10PM The Rookie .75
Whiskey Cavalier .78
8PM NCIS 1.28
9PM FBI .93
10PM NCIS: New Orleans 1.09
8PM The Flash .68
9PM Black Lightning .63
8PM The Gifted 1.0
MasterChef Junior .97
9PM Lethal Weapon .85
Gotham .77
8PM The Voice – Tuesday 1.78
9PM This Is Us 3.03
The Village .79
10PM New Amsterdam 1.12
Takeaway: Fox’s “Empire” continues to reign on Wednesdays, while ABC’s “Modern Family,” CBS’ “Survivor” and NBC’s “Chicago Fire” are also some of the bigger shows advertisers might covet.
8PM The Goldbergs 1.24
8:30PM American Housewife 1.2
Schooled 1.05
9PM Modern Family 1.49
9:30PM Single Parents 1.2
10PM A Million Little Things 1.04
Match Game .62
8PM Survivor 1.46
9PM Seal Team 1.12
10PM Criminal Minds 1.23
8PM Riverdale .61
9PM All-American .43
8PM Empire 1.67
9PM Star 1.21
8PM Chicago Med 1.28
9PM Chicago Fire 1.4
10PM Chicago PD 1.37
Takeaway: Fox’s “Thursday Night Football” will be the biggest draw of the evening – when it’s on. But once the run of games ends, look for CBS to command the night with the one-two punch of the last season of “The Big Bang Theory” coupled with spin-off “Young Sheldon.” At ABC, “Grey’s Anatomy” can be a helpful prescription.
8PM Greys’ Anatomy 1.9
9PM Station 19 1.29
10PM How To Get Away With Murder 1.1
For The People 0.82
8PM The Big Bang Theory 2.36
8:30PM Young Sheldon 2.13
9PM Mom 1.45
9:30PM Murphy Brown 1.21
10PM S.W.A.T. 1.18
8PM Supernatural .51
9PM Legacies .52
8PM Thursday Night Football 4.6
The Orville 1.0
Proven Innocent .38
8PM Superstore 1.11
8:30PM The Good Place 1.24
AP Bio  .65
9PM Will & Grace 1.82
Brooklyn 99 1.02
9:30PM I Feel Bad .81
Abby’s .53
10PM Law & Order: SVU 1.33
Takeaway: ABC’s “Speechless” and CBS’ “Hawaii Five-0” are expected to carry what is usually a weaker audience night.
8PM Fresh Off The Boat .72
8:30PM Speechless 1.14
9PM Child Support .65
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD .56
10PM 20/20 .51
8PM MacGyver .76
9PM Hawaii Five-0 1.05
10PM Blue Bloods .95
8PM Dynasty .19
9PM Crazy Ex-Girlfirend .20
Jane the Virgin .32
8PM Last Man Standing .74
8:30PM The Cool Kids .64
9PM Hell’s Kitchen .72
8PM Blindspot .67
Ellen’s Game (Spring) .68
9PM Midnight, Texas .74
Blacklists .68
10PM Dateline NBC .90
Takeaway: On a night typically jammed with repeats and sports, ABC’s college football night and NBC’s “SNL” schedule are probably the places to find the most viewers.
8PM Saturday Night College Football 1.4
8PM Crimetime Saturday 8 .33
9PM Crimetime Saturday 9 .41
10PM 48 Hours .54
8PM Fox Sports Saturday .56
8PM Saturday Night Dateline Mystery .50
10PM SNL Vintage .59
11:30PM Saturday Night Live
(earlier in western U.S.)