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Sports Gives Broadcast Nets C3 Lift in October

Sports programming had a big role in the broadcast networks getting off to a better start to the TV season than a year ago.

According to an analysis of C3 ratings — the metric used for buying and selling advertising — done by Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson Research, viewership of the big English-language broadcast networks was up 1% in October. Fox was up 11% and NBC rose 5%. Those gains more than offset a 4% dip at CBS and ABC’s 7% decline.

Sports viewing — a big factor on all the broadcasters except ABC — was up 18%. Excluding sports from their lineups, broadcast programs were down 3.5%. Only NBC’s non-sports programming showed again, according to Nathanson.

“On a positive note, each network can rightly claim a new show in the top 20 - in fact, ABC and CBS have two - which is good for re-stocking the pipeline,” Nathanson said. “On the flip side, for every returning Top 20 show from last year that is up this year like The Big Bang Theory (up an amazing 11%) or Scandal (up 67%), there are six more that are down. Some high profile and expensive shows like Two and A Half Men and 2 Broke Girls are down in the 20% range.”

Broadcast’s lowest rated shows are taking a particular beating. Last year’s 20th-lowest rated show, The Mentalist, had 2.5 million viewers in the 18- to 49-year-old demo. This year, the 20th-lowest rated show, The Michael J. Fox Show, had 2.2 million viewers in October. In average, the bottom 20 shows’ viewership is down 12%, according to Nathanson. “The bottom is literally dropping out of this industry.”

Nathanson says the real surprise of October is the performance of the cable networks. He says, using C3 revenue-weighted total day target demos, AMC Networks is up 21% in October and Viacom is flat. But other major cable programmers are lower, including Scripps Networks Interactive, off 2%, Time Warner’s Turner Networks, down 5%, and Discovery’s networks, down 15%.