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Buyers Optimistic After New TV Season Opens

Media buyers see reasons for optimism in the early ratings coming back from this year’s premiere week.

“It looks like all four of the networks have gotten out of the starting gate with at least one promising hit,” says Brad Adgate, senior VP of research at Horizon Media. Adgate points to a freshman crop that includes Sleepy Hollow on Fox, The Black List on NBC, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC and CBS’ The Crazy Ones as performing above expectations.

“That’s better than last year,” when broadcast ratings eroded by double digits and only NBC’s Revolution broke out, Adgate said.

Media buyers say they root for higher ratings—especially when they get more viewers than they paid for. They like broadcasting’s vast reach to help sell products and when ratings fall, their clients make goods that don’t always run in tandem with their client’s promotions.

“I don’t think they're all that disappointed,” said Sam Armando, senior VP for strategic intelligence at SMGx, part of agency giant Publicis, who thinks there’s been more buzz about this year’s shows than last year’s. “Let’s face it, the broadcast ratings have been down consistently year after year. It sounds like I’m being sarcastic if I were to say that flat is the new up, but if they could maintain their audience it would be a success.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Armando says Fox’s Sleepy Hollow was a surprise on the upside because it was week two for the speaking drama. Week one, it ran unopposed, but in week two, it suffered only a small drop in demo ratings, Armando said.

“I get more calls from clients this week, but I think the more important week is week two [of the season],” she said,  and when you compare it to previous Fox shows like Mob Doctor and Lone Star, Sleepy Hollow’s looking good.

Adgate thought there was an interesting story with ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. because it was bringing in young men viewers. “That’s something all the networks like to try and do and are very rarely successful,” he said. “It’s more difficult for ABC because they don’t have too much in the way of sports other than college football on Saturday night to promote shows.”

At the same time, there is concern about the lower ratings for ABC’s returning shows Nashville and Modern Family, Adgate said. “I don’t think anybody thought that Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would get more viewers than Modern Family, but it did.”

Armando found the performance of ABC’s new Wednesday night sitcom Back in the Game encouraging because it was the first show ABC’s had in a while that retained the ratings of the long-running The Middle.

The buyers caution that in these days of time shifting shows, it is important to wait until Live plus-7 ratings are released, which show how many people watched a show over seven days, and C3, which are the commercial ratings including three days of delayed viewing. C3 is the metric used by buyers and sellers to transact business.

Those longer-term metrics are especially important to evaluate serialized shows like CBS’ new Hostages and NBC’s Revolution, whose overnight numbers were underwhelming.

While Revolution, one of last year’s few hits, returned to some of its lowest numbers, it is now operating without The Voice as a lead in. “The flipside of that is that Revolution has some of the best Wednesday night at 8 o’clock ratings NBC has had in a while,” Armando says. “It outperformed Animal Practice last year and Undercovers a couple of year ago. Although the ratings are not close to what they were when Revolution was on Monday night, it really improved NBC’s Wednesday at 8 o’clock hour.”

Adgate think Hostages was “pretty disappointing” for CBS, which had hyped the show. “I don’t think it was all that different from what Hawaii 5-0 was doing [in the time period last year], but I think they expected a little more. I think they thought it would do what Under the Dome was doing.

And there are still some shows waiting to premiere. “I’m holding my breath with CBS’ decision to keep Sunday night in tact because it’s been fading year after year. I’m waiting to see how that plays out,” Armando says. “Next week I’m interested in Scandal. It had a lot of momentum for ABC. I expect viewers who watched it will return and I wonder if all the buzz that show’s had will mean better ratings.”

It might be too soon to pick the shows that will be cancelled first. “There’s an argument that it’s going to take the networks a little longer to pull the plug until all the delayed viewing data comes in,” Adgate said. “I’m not necessarily sold on that. Last year Made in Jersey was pulled after two episodes, so you can get a pretty good sense of that.