Baseline Intelligence Media analysts Steve Sternberg and Shari Anne Brill have teamed for their latest report, Primetime TV Insight: The 2011 Fall TV Preview Edition. This is their take on the new fall shows – which ones are the best; the best pilots; which have the best chance to survive; which will likely be busts; and a look at battleground time periods. Yesterday we looked at broadcast primetime; today it’s cable, with a focus on Kids & Teens networks:
Over the past few years, the broadcast networks have increased the amount of original summer programs they air (mostly reality), but their biggest and most important strategies still revolve around a television season that starts in late September and ends in May.
Cable networks do not follow the same schedule, which enables them to exploit the broadcast networks’ weaknesses during repeat-heavy months. Because the broadcast networks typically produce only 22 episodes of a show, at least 10-12 weeks of a normal September – May season will contain repeats or pre-emptions in a regular series’ time slot.
While sweeps months are no longer as important as they once were, the non-sweeps months of December, January, March, and April still carry the most mid-season broadcast reruns. Cable networks have taken to using these months (in addition to the summer) to debut first-run series. Cable networks have traditionally performed better during months when the broadcast networks have the heaviest repeat loads.
The move toward more original cable series during the spring and summer has resulted in unprecedented ratings. These shows are also much more heavily time shifted than cable programs in general. This has further caused the broadcast networks to reconsider how they program both the spring and summer months.
Looking at primetime from 4th-1st Quarter over the past three seasons shows that only seven networks – Adult Swim, BET, Bravo, ESPN, FX, History, and ION – have improved their average adult 25-54 rating for two years in a row (We’re not including networks with under a 0.2 rating). Five of these seven are among the top 15 rated networks (all but BET and Bravo).
Despite ad-supported cable’s aggregate growth, and some strong percentage gains among individual networks, however, fewer than 10 cable networks generate an average primetime household rating of 1.0 or higher. Seven of the nine cable networks hitting that mark this year have been doing so for each of the past five seasons. This means new networks are not reaching that audience level. During the same period, the number of cable networks with between a 0.5 and 0.9 household rating fluctuated slightly.
Among adults 18-49, only the NFL-driven ESPN averaged a 1.0 rating in primetime. Just 10 networks managed even a 0.5 average rating among this key demographic segment. Among adults 50+, only FOX News and USA have consistently topped the 1.0 ratings mark.
What does all this mean? Well, just as more channels and more choices have caused broadcast ratings to erode, they have also caused cable ratings to splinter. With a new network joining here and there, the higher rated cable networks have basically been unchanged over the past five years, with only a few moving from the lower- to mid-tier.
Here’s a look at individual cable networks grouped by genre, median age, and audience skew to get a sense of each network’s performance versus what we see as its competitive set:
Kids & Teens Networks
All the cable networks in this group have average median ages under 15. Nickelodeon continues to be the strongest network among kids, and shows no signs of weakening. While year-to-year growth has slowed, any audience gains in today’s media environment are significant.
Nickelodeon accounts for four of the seven networks measured by Nielsen in this group. Back in 2009, Noggin and The N were rebranded as Nick Jr. (a 24-hour pre-school network) and Teen Nick, respectively. This was done to provide a consistent look and brand across properties. Both networks have benefited from the rebranding. Nicktoons and Nick Jr. are primarily on digital cable tiers and satellite (Nicktoons is offered on expanded packages).
The Disney Channel is generally neck-and-neck with Nickelodeon, led by the still strong Wizards of Waverly Place, Suite Life on Deck, and recently concluded Hannah Montana. The series, which starred Miley Cyrus, ended its four-season run in mid-January. The finale episode posted 6.2 million viewers and achieved the highest ratings ever in the 7pm hour. Recently, Demi Lovato announced that she won’t be returning to her series, Sonny with a Chance. Accordingly, the channel started producing a replacement series. So Random, which will launch in June features all the other Sonny regulars, guest stars and musical acts. Also on tap for an early 2012 launch is Madison High, a music and dance-driven comedy pilot featuring the drama teacher from the High School Musical franchise and her theater students.
Disney XD is currently available in about two-thirds of the country, and has largely been focusing on boys 6-14 with such Master P, is expected to be involved in the music for How To Rock. The series, based on Alloy Entertainment’s book series, “How to Rock Braces and Glasses” is set to premiere in 2012. By the way, Cyphonique’s big brother is actor-rapper Romeo. Nepotism is alive and well.
Nickelodeon Preschool is home to four of the top five preschool shows on television, and has four of the top five preschool telecasts (Max & Ruby, Dora the Explorer, Bubble Guppies, and Team Umizoomi). The network has ordered new episodes of The Fresh Beat Band, Yo Gabba Gabba!, and Olivia. Additionally, Nickelodeon in conjunction with media content company Chorion and publisher Frederick Warne & Co. are producing 26 episodes of the new animated series, The Tales of Peter Rabbit.
TeenNick is a digital channel dedicated to tween and teen viewers. The channel features many of the shows that air on Nickelodean as well as episodes of Degrassi, The Next Generation, Drake and Josh, Zoey 101, and acquired series such as Saved by the Bell and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The network recently announced the creation of newly branded programming block, “The ’90s Are All That!,” which will launch this fall. It will feature a rotating selection of iconic liveaction and animated shows from Nickelodeon’s 1990s library
Cartoon Network fans had the opportunity to determine who’s got game by honoring their favorite sports stars and sports moments of the year. On the animation side returning series include: Adventure Time, Young Justice, Scooby-Doo: Mystery, Inc., Star Wars: The Clone Wars, MAD; Generator Rex; Ben 10: Ultimate Alien; Young Justice; Batman: The Brave and the Bold; Pokemon Black & White. Cartoon Network has put in the order for more than a dozen new programs for the next year or so, most of which are animated. On tap for 2012 is the newly announced DC Nation franchise, which will officially make the kid’s channel the exclusive home for animated DC superheroes in 2012.
The Hub, the joint venture between Discovery and Hasbro, launched back on 10/10/10. The network is currently built around three separate program blocks consisting of Pre-school (ages 2-5, from 9am-1pm); Kids Afternoon/Kids Prime (ages 6-12, from 1-7pm) and Family Prime (from 7-11pm). During the daytime, the network targets preschoolers and kids with a variety of shows, many of which are based on Hasbro Toys.
Next, we look at 18-34 and female-skewing cable networks.