Broadcast and cable retain summer viewers

Nets drawing 1.2 million more than last summer

The Big Five English-language broadcast networks, through the first eight weeks of the summer season, are cumulatively drawing 1.2 million more viewers per night than last summer. They also are averaging the same cumulative 1.6 18-49 demo rating and 1.9 25-54 demo rating as they did last summer, according to Nielsen Media Research live-plus-same-day ratings data.

In the wake of the poor ratings the broadcast networks recorded in April and May, advertisers and their media agencies are generally pleased. And it will clearly allow the networks to catch up with makegoods they owe before the start of the new season this fall.

"What could have been a catastrophic situation for the broadcast networks has turned into a relatively good summer," said Brad Adgate, senior vp, director of research at Horizon Media.

As for cable, the 15 largest ad-supported nets are cumulatively drawing the same number of viewers as last summer, accomplished without several key series whose normal summer premieres have been delayed.

"It's been a normal, solid cable summer," said John Spiropoulos, vp, group research director at MediaVest. "And the premieres of many of their major scripted series have exceeded last year's numbers."

For example, USA's veteran drama Monk premiered this summer with 5.6 million viewers, 16% more than last year and its highest-rated premiere since 2005 (see related story on page 8). And TNT's The Closer opened with 500,000 more viewers than last summer.

On the broadcast side, ABC, which is averaging one million more viewers per night this summer, was helped early on by the NBA finals in prime time, which drew about 5 million more viewers per night over the six-game series than last year's four-game series.

And ABC's two new summer game shows, Wipeout and I Survived a Japanese Game Show, have buoyed the network's ratings and viewer numbers compared to last summer. Wipeout has average 9.6 million viewers per night and a solid 3.6 18-49 rating, while Japanese Game Show has drawn 6.7 million viewers per night and a 2.7 18-49 rating. That compares to last summer's ABC reality show Fast Cars & Superstars, which averaged only 2.9 million viewers and a paltry 0.8 18-49 rating.

CBS is flat in summer viewers but down about 10% in the 18-49 demo. But it has been strengthened by reality show Greatest American Dog, which is drawing 8.2 million viewers a night, despite having a median viewer age of nearly 56.

Summer drama series Flashpoint has averaged 7.6 million viewers per night, and CBS just moved it from Friday at 10 to Thursday at 10 to try to expose it to the bigger TV-viewing night.

Fox's summer schedule has been strengthened by Hell's Kitchen, which is baking 8.6 million viewers and a hefty 4.1 18-49 rating, and So You Think You Can Dance, which is averaging 8.7 million viewers and a 3.2 18.49 rating cumulatively in its two weekly telecasts. NBC's clear summer hit is America's Got Talent, which is drawing 12.3 million viewers and a 3.3 18-49 rating.

In the negative column are summer ratings for The CW, which is averaging 1.6 million viewers per night, down about 250,000. On July 15, upstart broadcast net MyNetworkTV's reality series Street Patrol drew 1.23 million viewers in prime time compared to 1 million for
The CW's Beauty and the Geek. MNTV's Jail drew 1.63 million viewers on the same night head-to-head with CW's Reaper, which had 1.53 million viewers.

MediaVest's Spiropoulos pointed out that after the writers' strike wreaked havoc on spring ratings, buyers had almost written off the summer. "Going into the summer, we thought things were going to be bad for broadcast," he said. "We've been somewhat surprised."