Agency Finds Network Comedy Trend Is Nothing To Laugh At

A major media shop has added yet another theory to the litany of possible causes for the drop in primetime ratings among young men this season. And this one is definitely nothing to laugh at.

In an analysis of Nielsen's just-released white paper on the subject, Interpublic's Magna Global USA unit suggests, as others have, that the problem is the network's programming and scheduling. But unlike others, Magna has pinpointed the problem to be a surge in half-hour comedies on the networks' schedules this season.

"We've been saying all along that the lack of programming to young men was the major reason for declining broadcast ratings. But maybe the length of the program itself has something to do with it," says Magna senior vice president-director of audience analysis Steve Sternberg in the report. "This fall, there were nine more comedies on the broadcast networks than last season, three hours less of action/adventure/sci-fi series, and two fewer movie hours."

Sternberg noted that this season is the first since 1999 with more comedies than dramas on the six broadcast networks. During those previous seasons, he noted that young male TV usage actually increased.



To prove its theory, Magna conducted a half-hour by half-hour analysis of the ratings among men 18-24 for the two program genres and found there is a far greater fall-off in viewing in the succeeding half-hours of comedies than among one-hour dramas.

"It's the end of the program that encourages leaving" among young men, says Sternberg, adding, "While we're certainly not saying that more comedies will result in more broadcast erosion, programming, length of programming, and the effects of program genres on viewing duration are without question important elements to examine."

Men 18-24 Rating Changes by Half-Hour

-------Half-Hour Comedies------- ----------Hour Dramas---------
8:00-8:30 8:30-9:00 Change 8:00-8:30 8:30-9:00 Change
69.2 68.4 -1% 43.5 46.9 +8%

9:00-9:30 9:30-10:00 9:00-9:30 9:30-10:00
37.9 29.7 -22% 56.5 62.4 +10%

Source: Magna Global USA analysis of data from Nielsen Media Research (Oct. 10 - Nov. 11, 2003).
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