ABC Clears Card for 'Bingo Night’

A second run of National Bingo Night is in the cards for ABC.

And what is increasingly a sign of the state of the television business, it was the show’s online strength, as opposed to its Nielsen numbers, that has ABC bringing back the interactive game show for a five-night run in December.

“It is fair to say this show was saved by the fact that, while its ratings numbers weren’t as impressive, that was totally contradicted by everything else we saw online,” says ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson.

As of now, ABC is planning on airing the show on five consecutive nights the week of Dec. 17.

National Bingo Night did not draw the ratings that would have most networks clamoring for a second season. Over six Friday-night airings May 18-June 22, it averaged a 1.4 rating/5 share in the advertiser-coveted adult 18-49 demo.

While the show did hold 100% of its lead-in, its ratings did not hold up as the run went on. The show debuted to a 1.8 rating on May 18 at 9 p.m. ET and then held that same number the following week. But its subsequent airings drew a 1.6, 1.4, 1.1 and then a 0.9 for its finale, half that of the premiere.

But the online component of the show caught ABC’s attention as the networks continue their mad scramble to find ways to connect with viewers.

“Nielsen claimed the numbers were what they were, but there was definitely a disconnect,” McPherson says of the show’s audience. “We have concrete online numbers that don’t lie.”

The show gave viewers the ability to go online and download their own Bingo cards and play along, with home viewers winning more than $550,000 throughout the show’s run.

More than 3 million Bingo cards were downloaded before the series even debuted on May 18, and weekly numbers grew online more than 10% a week. All that spelled profit for, which saw traffic skyrocket.

ABC racked up more than 22 million Bingo card downloads overall. The Bingo cards helped more than double its unique users in May from the same month a year earlier, to more than 14.6 million. The site finished the month of May as the top entertainment TV site, according to MediaMetrix and Nielsen NetRatings.

Show creator Andrew Glassman is happy to acknowledge that the online component helped give National Bingo Night a chance to clear the cards for another run.

“It’s been a wild ride,” he says. “You get a rating no one is jumping up and down about, but then you get these other metrics showing great interactivity, and you’re not sure what to believe. It just shows there are metrics other than the ratings to gauge success in television.”

And both producers and networks reap the benefits of the interactivity, according to Glassman, who has had his own run of luck getting shows on network TV in recent years, including Average Joe, Three Wishes and Ex-Wives Club.

“We don’t need focus groups to tell us what’s working and not working,” he says of Bingo. “We have a team of people reading e-mails and answering questions and dealing with technical issues, so we hear it directly. And all the broadcasters are looking very carefully for this interactive component and not just voting or texting in to win.”

Twentieth Television is also selling the show internationally, and at least six or seven foreign versions may be in the works.

A Week-long Event

Casting has already begun on the second season, which will see the return of host Ed Sanders, a design team contributor for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Also back is “commissioner” Sunil Narkar.

McPherson says that he likes the idea of running Bingo Night as a week-long event and plans to heavily promote the show and the companion online game during November sweeps programming.

The series will also return with a new badge of honor: It was voted the Worst Show on television by critics in the B&C Critics Poll (see p. 12). And that is a distinction Glassman is happy to have, given the panning of other successful reality and game shows in the past.

“We got just as much positive feedback as a few grumpy critics,” he laughs. “If they said the same thing about Fear Factor and Deal or No Deal, I’d be happy to be grouped in with those shows.”