Friends Stretch to Survive

  • by January 31, 2001
By Ken Liebeskind

Tune in to NBC tomorrow night and Friends, the popular 30 minute sitcom will run 40 minutes, followed by a 20 minute segment of Saturday Night Live.

"It’s a defensive programming move that has raised the stakes in this compelling ratings race," says John Rash, senior VP of broadcast negotiations at Campbell Mithune Esty, a Minneapolis advertising agency.

NBC made the move to fight off competition from CBS’ Survivor: the Australian Outback, which moves into the same time slot this week. "It is threatening NBC’s long term Thursday night dominance," Rash says, calling Survivor "bold and aggressive."

In the past, networks challenged NBC’s must see TV Thursday night lineup with "older skewing programming, such as Diagnosis Murder on CBS," he says. But Survivor is a real life show skewed to a much younger audience that can compete with Friends.

Both shows start at 8 pm Eastern time with Survivor lasting a full hour. That prompts Rash to wonder why NBC didn’t extend Friends for a full 60 minutes. "Now there is a natural 20 minute break where viewers can turn to see who’s been booted out of the Outback" (on Survivor), he notes.

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Friends is in its seventh season. Survivor started last May and ran for 13 episodes on Wednesday nights. Its second season started Jan. 28 with a special showing following the Super Bowl. It moves to Thursdays this week. The Jan. 28 show received a high Nielsen rating of 24.5/39, meaning 24.5% of TVs owned and 39% of the audience were tuned in. A total of 45.37 million viewers watched.

When asked what effect the Thursday night competition will have on advertising, Rash says it will be good for advertisers who "like options as well as large audiences." He says, "The move should bring more viewers to the set, more potential consumers to communicate with, which will reduce the potential leverage one network can have." The competition could erase pricing pressures, with NBC possibly lowering its high Thursday night rates if it loses viewers to CBS. Meanwhile, NBC’s ad revenue will be boosted, because it has 10 more minutes to show ads. But the network has yet to announce whether it will add an additional ad break, Rash says.

NBC’s move is planned for four weeks. For the first two weeks, segments of Saturday Night Live will follow Friends. The third week, Conan and Friends, featuring Conan O’Brien, will follow it. The fourth week, 40 minute episodes of Will and Grace and Just Shoot Me will follow it. That takes it through sweeps period, when Friends will probably return to 30 minutes, although no decision has been made yet, according to an NBC spokeswoman.

Rash calls the four week run "a short term attempt by NBC to blunt the interest in Survivor and protect its long standing must TV franchise."

- Ken Liebeskind may be reached at KenRunz@aol.com

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