Leaders & Bleeders: Nielsen Up, Retrans Dollars Down

FX executives were understandably energized by the debut of the Charlie Sheen-starring “Anger Management” last week. The show launched with back-to-back episodes Thursday and proved to be the highest-rated scripted comedy in cable history in the 18-to-49 demo.

Yet, like so many heavily promoted series, success on premiere night can be a mirage. It’s week two and how many viewers return that offers a better sense about a show’s future.

Particularly in the case of “Anger Management.” The deal between FX and producer Lionsgate calls for the show to meet a certain ratings level over its initial 10-episode run in order to activate a trigger for 90 more episodes.

But FX President John Landgraf indicated the road to return -- the minimum ratings benchmark -- starts this week.

“I think they’ll be a lot of curiosity for the show, which is why the first two episodes don’t actually count in terms of the ratings threshold,” he said in an interview on L.A. radio station KCRW before the debut. “People will stay if they like the show, if it makes them laugh.”

Still, FX could order the ensuing 90 episodes if the ratings fall below the “trigger” level if the network feels the series has promise.

“If it misses by a mile, we won’t go forward,” Landgraf said. “If it’s close, maybe we will.”

Check in Friday afternoon for a gauge on whether the show will be around for a good while -- Sheen’s behavior providing.

In the meantime, it’s time for this month’s Leaders & Bleeders:

LEADERS:

1) NIELSEN – Loads of questions are still to be answered -- including whether stations will want to pay for it -- but the company’s proposed new measurement system for local markets, which would reduce the influence of pencil-and-paper diaries, is a bold step that could upgrade measurement. Diaries would not go away, but set-top-box data and a new code reader would purportedly cut down on wild swings in ratings – no “Wheel of Fortune” episodes having an impossible 0.0 on Monday but a 5.0 on Friday. The new system would also bring change to the country’s largest markets as the size of the panel that determines ratings would effectively quadruple. Nielsen’s proposed overhaul comes as diary misprints affected some May sweeps ratings and Sinclair dropped Nielsen altogether in several markets.

2) “SUPREME COURT WEEKLY” – Which cable news network will be the first to launch a roundtable-type show dedicated to the court? The court’s influence became apparent to so many Americans last week with the drama-filled health care decision, but there is so much more to analyze and debate during the regular flow of business. Besides the health care decision, the court released opinions last week dealing with the Arizona immigration matter; the wardrobe malfunction; life in prison for some juvenile offenders; unlimited campaign contributions; and whether a person falsely claiming to have won medals for valor in the military is protected under the First Amendment. There’s plenty for cable networks to generate throwdowns. And, maybe if they studied the court more frequently, Fox News and CNN wouldn’t have initially misreported the health care decision last week.

3) NBC RATINGS LOCH – The network stands to score some huge ratings (presuming too many people don’t watch the races live on the Web) for the swimming events at the Olympics, thanks to a rivalry between icon Michael Phelps and the surging Ryan Lochte (pronounced "Lock-tee"). The pair could go head-to-head in three individual events. That could give Lochte the chance to become an even bigger star on the endorsement front, where he already has relationships with Gatorade, P&G and Nissan. Phelps, meanwhile, could compete for the same eight gold medals he won four years ago. Also, Missy Franklin, who just turned 17, could become the first American woman to go for medals a record seven times.

4) CABLE PRODUCERS – Why would producers want to subject themselves to the cancellation-heavy broadcast networks? Bring your show to cable, get a few family members to watch and the network will give a green light for another season. TBS will stage a comeback for the “Men At Work” band next year, even as the comedy's ratings would have had broadcast networks putting it down under. Another summer show, A&E’s “Longmire,” has been similarly renewed (it did set a debut record for A&E). TNT’s “Dallas,” which might do well on a broadcast outlet, will also be back.

5) ACTIVIST HOLDING COMPANIES – As holding companies increase their footprints, it will be interesting if any others make statements – besides promising shareholders revenue bumps -- with their expansion. Publicis’ investment in an agency on the West Bank was extraordinary. CEO Maurice Levy characterized it in a New York Times piece as an endorsement of the Middle East peace process. He called it an investment with implications “beyond just the value of the transaction.”

BLEEDERS:

1) RETRANSMISSION CONSENT DOLLARS – Station groups affiliated with the Big Four networks are spending liberally to lobby against any legislation that would cut down on the carriage payments they receive from pay-TV distributors. It might be a fruitless effort. The new Congress that is seated in January seems likely to aggressively push to shake things up, maybe at least putting in place dispute resolution methods that would reduce leverage broadcasters have in carriage fights. Lawmakers don’t want to hear any complaints about constituents unable to watch sporting events.

2) GROUPM – The huge media buying entity “badly misread the cable market” in the upfront, according to Adweek. The publication reported GroupM planned on rate increases significantly below what the market was yielding, leaving it in stand-offs with several large cable networks. In response, GroupM suggested it's approach was sound and some networks were looking to negotiate in the media. Still, GroupM has a lot of money to spend that networks will need to fill their budgets, so it may be able to salvage any trouble from moving late. Beneficiaries could be smaller cable networks willing to give GroupM a lower rate-for-more money swap.

3) LOWERED EXPECTATIONS – A new round of negative economic news has begun with Forbes reporting that Procter & Gamble, Nike and FedEx have warned of lower financial results than expected recently. Nielsen, which through its buy business has a decent sense of revenue at consumer packaged goods companies, also slightly adjusted its revenue forecast downward for 2012. On Monday, a report on lower U.S. manufacturing results caused tremors in the stock market. Will large companies have to reevaluate and look to save by cutting ad spending?

4) 3D TV – Sales of 3D sets are growing, research from NPD Group shows, but that appears to be the result of increased proliferation of flat-panel TVs in showrooms, not consumer hunger. The firm found recently that by one metric only 14% of those surveyed said 3D TV is a “must have.” There are efforts to entice consumers with 3D sets where no glasses are needed. But perhaps most telling about 3D TV’s cloudy future is DirecTV's slashing the amount of programming on its 3D channel, which is backed by Panasonic, because of a dearth of content. The AP reports that at times the screen simply shows the channel's logo. 

5) JOHN CALIPARI – It’s bad enough when conference realignment leads to traditional rivalries going away such as Texas-Texas A&M in football and Missouri-Kansas in basketball. But Calipari, the Kentucky basketball coach, single-handedly blocking the continuation of the annual Kentucky-Indiana basketball game is ludicrous. The apparent reason: he does not want to lose to Indiana again. More ridiculous is his alleged boss – the president of UK – hasn’t overruled him. The game last year was tremendous on ESPN. What a shame it's going away. What a coward?  

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