In Network TV, Supply and Demand Going in Opposite Directions

If the Big Four networks are indeed able to command significant price increases in the upfront market, it will again be remarkable just how vast the spread is between supply and demand. CPMs and ratings continue to head in strikingly opposite directions.

To wit: Barclays Capital projects ABC to command 10% price bumps, while the network's C3 ratings in the 18-to-49 demo this season are down ... 10%.

At Fox, Barclays projects CPMs to go up 10%, while its ratings are down 6%.

At CBS, pricing would go up 12%, while ratings have declined 7%. NBC would have an 8% increase in CPMs as its ratings have dropped 6%.

Jeff Immelt may be happy he doesn't have to answer many questions about NBC anymore, but is there another part of GE that has such a curious relationship with the demand curve? Post-recession, the business of network TV seems strong enough to have some at GE with at least some seller's remorse. Partly, because next time there is a recession, the impact should be softened because of the carriage fees the networks are now benefiting from.

Still, GE frustration with how much harder it is to produce hit programming than a superlative jet engine seems legit. Networks are finishing off an unimpressive year there.

Using C3 figures (average commercial ratings, including three days of DVR playback), Fox leads the pack in the 18-to-49 demo in prime time with a 2.69 rating (down 6%).

CBS is second with a 2.33 (down 7%). NBC, helped by "Sunday Night Football," is third with a 2.09 (down 6%) and ABC is fourth with a 2.06 (down 10%).

The CW has experienced a 13% drop in its key female 18-to-34 demo to a 1.03 in C3.

The figures are the latest available and include regularly scheduled sports programs like the NFL on NBC.

Even with the drops, networks have been making the argument that they are still underpaid. Buyers don't give them adequate credit for the viewers they deliver who are older than 49.

But ratings are not exactly (baby) booming there either, though far more steady than in key demos.

Among adults 50-plus, CBS is number one in C3 by far with a 6.77 rating, a 2% increase over last season.

But ABC is second with a 4.16, down 3%. NBC is third with a 3.37, a 1% decline. And Fox is in fourth with a 3.15, down 6%.

Household ratings are also down in C3 across the board. CBS leads in that category with a 6.3 average, a 1% decline. Fox and ABC are down 5% and NBC has dropped 3%.

Outside prime time, not receiving much attention is the fate of David Letterman on CBS and Jay Leno on NBC. Letterman's ratings have fallen in the 18-to-49 demo 11% and Leno's have dropped 13%.

The cost of network TV is a funny thing sometimes.

2 comments about "In Network TV, Supply and Demand Going in Opposite Directions".
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  1. Chris Nielsen from Domain Incubation, May 20, 2011 at 3:57 p.m.

    I think Network TV is starting to die and lose it's former advantage. Old methods and large profit margins may need to adapt to the current market shifts before it is too late for them to recover. It happend to the record industry, newspapers, and now network TV.

    One thing is for sure: Charging more for less is never a good idea when the client has a choice.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 20, 2011 at 5:43 p.m.

    So who is profiting? Follow the money. Who is getting the rewards for the risk of spending other people's money?

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