It’s been a tough stretch for Fox. Network chief Kevin Reilly conceded this past season was lackluster at best, while upfront deal-making saw dollar commitments decline markedly.
Yet, even with the rockiness, Fox again finished the season number one in a notable metric: C3 ratings, excluding sports and specials. Arguably, it’s the most important benchmark to gauge a network’s prime-time health. The C3 numbers serve as the currency in the ad market, while scripted and reality series are a network’s core.
With ratings in for the full 2012-13 season, Fox posted a 2.1 in the 18-to-49 demo in C3. CBS followed at 2.0. ABC was next at 1.8. NBC was fourth at 1.7. The order was the same again, though some gaps between networks significantly narrowed. (C3 measures average commercial ratings for a live broadcast and the ensuing three days.)
For Fox, finishing in first must be like having the best losing record. There’s not much to brag about. Fox’s C3 ratings were down 16%. That was notably more than CBS and ABC, which suffered themselves, falling 13% and 10%, respectively. NBC was up 6%.
Fox's margin over CBS was much narrower than last season as it won by about half as much. (It really should always be mentioned that Fox programs seven fewer hours a week than the Big Four, which offers advantages.)
Without sports and specials, the C3 numbers don’t include the Super Bowl (which helped CBS lead in overall program ratings), the World Series and the Oscars – or “Sunday Night Football.” NBC finishing with an increase without "SNF" is surprising.
Some factors might include “The Voice” having an additional cycle, “Revolution” proving to be a first-season success and much higher ratings on Wednesdays with “Law & Order: SVU” switching time periods.
(NBC would argue that any ratings picture that doesn’t include “SNF” falls short since it is a regularly scheduled program and is central to its schedule.)
How much different are C3 ratings without sports and specials than the higher numbers networks enjoy using for publicity that include all programming in a live plus seven metric? With the Super Bowl, CBS finished first in the 18-to-49 demo for the season with a 2.9 -- 45% higher than the C3 metric.
Fox finished in second with a 2.5 -- 19% higher than its C3 figure. NBC’s 2.4 was 41% above and ABC’s 2.3 was 28% higher.
Looking at final season ratings – C3 or otherwise -- provides a jumping-off point to ponder some of the more interesting ratings questions for next season:
--“The Big Bang Theory” continues to grow nicely for CBS. The constant re-runs on TBS may be increasing interest. ABC’s “Modern Family” continues to be a juggernaut, though ratings were down notably. Will re-runs on USA starting this fall give it a lift?
--Can CBS boost ratings on traditionally strong Mondays, which were down 25% by one measure? The final season of “How I Met Your Mother” might generate some renewed interest. But CBS has two new comedies and a new drama, replacing “Hawaii Five-O.”
--At NBC, will “Revolution” continue as a top-10 series without “The Voice” as a lead-in? For that matter, can “The Voice” launch a hit for the second year in a row with new show “The Blacklist” following it on Mondays?
--Can “Grey’s Anatomy” avoid a significant ratings drop in its 10th season? The series was down just 2% by one metric this past year.
--Forget “American Idol,” can once-hot “Glee” and “New Girl” reverse slides and help Fox regain momentum?
Fox and NBC are likely to have considerably higher ratings next year with the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics, respectively. But any chest-thumping might be tempered by C3 ratings for the series that air week after week and continue to face seemingly more of an uphill climb each year.