As reports surface that NBC already begun reimbursing advertisers for Q4 primetime ratings shortfalls, we’re hearing the shortfalls are almost across the board (except for Fox, which is up year to year). And there’s no makegood inventory in Q4 to offer—at least in the weeks that count (If you’re a retailer, you want inventory before the Christmas holiday). That means Q1 inventory is being offered to advertisers. What will this mean when midseason hits and ratings will likely plunge even further—without scripted programming from the WGA strike? Not pretty.
It could be that the networks oversold a lot of scatter and that’s leading to part of the problem. However, Shari Anne Brill, Carat USA VP/director of programming, tells us she believes NBC “clearly” over-anticipated the success of their fall sked. “And this has nothing to do with the strike,” she says. “And I don’t have the C3’s in front of me, but I know how the season is trending. Keep in mind that this year there was a transition to commercial minute ratings including 3 days of playback. Based on Live numbers, during the 10 weeks of the season, NBC is off by 17% year to year.”
She noted that a lot of the new shows that NBC scheduled did not perform as well as they would have liked, and many of their returning shows are substantially down—Heroes is in a sophomore slump, for one. DVR viewing can make up for some of the loss, but a lot of it is “they just bailed,” Brill said. The likely suspects are cable and just plain other viewing sources like the internet.
She’s seeing other “awful” YtoY declines. CBS is in a similar situation, ABC is down slightly. Fox (as noted) is slightly up. The CW is off quite a bit—they’re down by three-tenths of a rating point vs. the previous year. “That translates to a 25% loss, which is kind of big, but it’s not quite as staggering when you’re looking at a smaller percentage of the ratings in the first place.”
NBC’s loss, says Brill, is six tenths of a rating point on Live viewers. “That’s pretty problematic, and C3 is going to probably look a lot like Live.”
So how much worse can it get for transactional business if the strike keeps on trucking into midseason pilot production and programming of scripted fare?
Said Brill: “It depends of the replacement programming. Reality exists on schedules. It’s a programming fact of life. NBC has a lot more reality hours. And it’s a problem when reality starts overcompensating for the lack of scripted product. I’d be in a much happier position as with Fox’s American Idol or CBS’s Survivor and ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. But I don’t think those shows define a network—it’s the quality of their scripted series. I don’t think that’s as much of a priority for NBC as it used to be.”
NBC had much more development than was actually picked up. A lot of the shows that did get picked up will likely more to their sister cable nets USA, SciFi—like Bionic and Chuck. In subsequent months, they’ve got the remake of American Gladiator and a redux of Night Rider as a reality strip over the summer. In February, NBC will premiere the new drama Lipstick Jungle. It also plans to toss in first-run episodes of Las Vegas, SVU, ER, Chuck, Friday Night Lights, Scrubs and My Name is Earl.
TVBR observation: NBC CEO Jeff Zucker said not all that long ago that the network would be looking more and more at affordable, reality programming. He said costs on scripted shows that don’t make it are becoming prohibitive. So he’s followed through with his promise, but is this the result? And down the line, they’re not going to get any payment back to them in off-net syndication. Their goal is to try and find profitable programming product. If it tarnishes their image, so be it—they’re making money for GE.