Who's Number One? And How Long Will It Matter?

by , Apr 13, 2012, 1:22 PM
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The 16-year winning streak of NBC’s “Today” as the top-rated network morning show hasn’t ended yet. Katie Couric’s week-long turn on “Good Morning America” helped ABC get the closest it has been to “Today” in seven years -- within 200,000 viewers. (“Today” had 5.1 million viewers, “GMA” 4.9 million.)

As we come close to the end of the season, we wonder if other reigning network shows will get a close scare, say Fox’s longtime prime-time champ “American Idol.”

NBC’s “The Voice” has been making big inroads on “Idol,” the original singing competition show and still the big prime-time rating leader.

For their performance shows, through April 8, “The Voice” was slightly ahead of “Idol” among the key 18-49 crowd: a 6.8 average rating versus a 6.5. “Idol,” however, is still ahead in total viewers -- 20.2 million to 17.5 million.

Not only that, but “Idol’s results shows are almost doubling “The Voice” results -- a 5.9 rating versus a 3.2. “Idol” is also way ahead in total viewers for the results shows --18.9 million versus 8.5 million.

It’s not over yet. All reality shows get a ratings push in in the final weeks as big finalists are revealed.

Still, by any account, this season’s top-rated broadcast series of any kind will almost assuredly be NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” It ended the season with an 8.0 rating average in 18-49 and 20.7 million overall.

For advertisers, getting commercials on any network’s number-one show has been a big deal over the years -- though not necessarily the key to a major return on their media investments, say a number of new media agency executives.

In the new world order of media fractionalization, what kind of real impact does getting on the “number one” now have? You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that singular TV events like the Super Bowl -- which continually go up in price -- can mean lots to marketers.

But what about other shows slightly lower on the radar? Season finales of, say, still decently rated broadcast network dramas? Big comedies? High-rated morning talk shows or popular late-night talk shows?

We know some marketers have been experimenting in shifting their TV budgets around because of new set-top-box data, consumer product purchase behavior, and other metrics.

Does that mean they won’t buy such pricey fare as “Idol,” “The Voice” or “Sunday Night Football” in the future? Might they may look to “Storage Fish Wars,” “Chopped-Up Chefs” or “Designers in a Funk”?

Network ad sales executives continue going to great lengths to spin the value of shows: their history, viewer loyalty, and now high social media engagement activity. No doubt the vagaries of person-to-person sales efforts -- and long-term media bias -- will continue for some time.

But as ratings continue to drop – and, like water, seek some sort of level -- and as more marketing malaise seeps further into the crevices of TV schedules, when will it truly not matter who -- Jay Leno, David Letterman or “Nightline” -- rules late night?

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