Is Network Prime Time's 18-49 Bottom Line Still A MOVING Line?

For some on-the-ropes broadcast network programs, it's kind of like getting selected to NCAA March Madness -- for next TV season, who is going to the big dance?

As new network shows look to replace ho-hum players, decision time nears for next season. What ratings should shows on the bubble be doing now in the hope of getting another chance next year?

CBS' "The Defenders" recently has been getting a 1.5 rating for adults 18-49 on Fridays at 8 p.m. That puts it on the bubble. CBS' 10 p.m. Friday show "Blue Bloods" gets a 1.9 rating. Not really on the bubble. Many other shows are vying for another chance to dance: NBC's "Chuck," ABC's "Detroit 1-8-7," and Fox's "Fringe," to name a few.



A 2.0 rating among 18-49 viewers for a network show in prime time was perhaps last year's make it or break it number. Now it appears networks can do with less.

But, as always, you need to look deeper. Network schedulers look for micro-trends more than ever before: are the ratings moving up amongst other viewing groups? Are more women or men watching? What night of the week is the show airing? Is it a competitive time period? Is the studio asking for a big license fee?

And what about younger audiences? They are always a premium for network advertisers. If younger audiences are growing with a particular prime-time show, network executives could have a better story to tell to advertisers.

While 18-49 numbers on broadcast continue to fall, some prime-time advertising data continues to increase.

Pricing on a cost-per-thousand basis has been 20-30% higher than upfront pricing set last June. The going prime-time CPM rate for a network show is now $30-35 for 18-49. Not that long ago, it was in the $20 range.

So, the broadcast networks have something to cheer about. For producers, all this means shows of lesser rating value have a chance.

Roughly speaking, broadcast network shows getting 7 million to 9 million viewers could be on the bubble. For prime-time shows on the top 20 cable networks, the bubble line appears at around 1 million or so viewers.

But, of course, this is still comparing apples and oranges. Cable networks have that dual revenue stream of subscriber fees -- with broadcasters only now getting into the same game with retransmission money from cable operators.

Right now, though, the broadcast networks aren't on parity with the cable networks in this area. Conversely, of course, the cable networks aren't on parity with the broadcast networks when it comes to CPMs for original shows. The cable CPMs can be half of what broadcast gets, in some cases in the $15-20 neighborhood for 18-49 viewers.

The bottom line is that the line keeps moving.

I look forward to the day when a 1.0-rated prime-time show on a broadcast network will be called a success.

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