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Eye on Upfront: Why CBS Has the Best Pitch for Advertisers Right Now

We're 27 weeks into the 2012-13 broadcast network primetime
season, with about seven weeks to go. All the broadcast networks have had
challenging seasons with no freshman breakout hits, only a few rookie successes
and ratings declines for veteran shows across the board. So, which one can make
the best case for dealing from a position of power at the upfront?

A closer look at the Nielsen data shows that only CBS—even when
you take away its mammoth Super Bowl ratings numbers—is having a pretty decent
season. True, CBS skews older, but when it comes to mass audience shows, there
are always large numbers of younger viewers mixed in with the older crowd.

CBS struck out with freshman series Made in Jersey
and Partners, but it has
a solid freshman series in Elementary
to bring back, and while rookie drama Vegas skews old and may not
return, it is averaging 10.6 million viewers per episode, making it the
most-watched new scripted series on broadcast television.

accomplishment on Thursdays at 10 p.m. has been no small feat. On one of the
most important advertising nights of the week, this new series has won the time
period virtually every week, averaging 10.2 million viewers and a 2.1 18-49
demo rating.

On top of that, five CBS scripted series—NCIS, NCIS: Los
Angeles, The Big Bang Theory, Person of Interest
and Blue Bloods—are
all drawing more viewers this season than they averaged at the end of last
season. While Blue Bloods is one of the oldest skewing series on
television, it still brings a huge audience to the screen on Friday nights when
most younger folks are not at home.

But the numbers for the other four series are impressive in
a year when viewers have abandoned most veteran series. NCIS, the most watched
scripted show on television, has increased its averaged viewership this season
to 19 million per episode, up from 17.3 last season, while averaging the same
3.3 18-49 rating it posted last season.

NCIS: Los Angeles, meanwhile, is averaging 15.7 million
viewers, up from 14.2 million last season, and it is also averaging the same
2.8 18-49 demo rating it finished last season with.

Person of Interest, in only its second season, is averaging 13.6 million viewers,
up from 12.2 million last season. Its 18-49 demo rating is a 2.7 vs. 2.6 last

And Big Bang
is averaging 15.8 million viewers and a 4.9 18-49 rating in a head-to-head
competition each week with Fox's American Idol, which it is now beating
in both viewers and the demo. Last season, BigBang averaged 13.5
million and a 4.4 demo rating.

Even the long-running Sunday newsmagazine 60 Minutes,
while down just a tick in viewership from last season (12.5 million to last
season's 12.8 million) is flat among 18-49 viewers with a 2.3. While the median
age viewer of 60 Minutes is over 60, there are still lots of younger
viewers tuning in.

Other CBS shows that are down but still having solid seasons
include Two and a Half Men, Survivor, 2Broke Girls and Mike
& Molly
. Men is averaging 12.4 million viewers compared to 12.7
last season, and a 3.5 rating compared to a 4.2. While the percentage of
decline in the demo is about 17%, the rating still places Men among the most-watched shows among 18-49 year olds.

Among viewers this season, CBS has the three most-watched
series (NCIS, Big Bang and NCIS: LA) and six of the top 10; in
the 18-49 demo, CBS has five of the top 10 shows. And it also has three of the
five most-watched new series (Vegas, Elementary and Golden Boy, although the latter has only aired a few
episodes). So, CBS has to be feeling good about its pitch to advertisers as the
upfront approaches.

In fact, CBS is sitting in such a good position as far as
schedule stability that it has held off announcing whether it will bring back
one of the most watched dramas on television next season: Criminal Minds.
This CBS drama has averaged 10.2 million viewers this season and a 2.6 18-49
demo rating, not that far off from where it finished last season when it
averaged 11.2 million viewers and a 2.9 demo rating.

At the other end of the primetime spectrum is struggling
NBC. Its only scripted show up over last season in both viewers and in the
18-49 demo is the Friday night sci-fi series Grimm and its numbers are
relatively small. Grimm is averaging 4.9 million viewers and a 1.5 18-49
rating, up from 4.6 million and a 1.4 demo rating last season.

NBC drama Parenthood is averaging 4.9 million
viewers, up from 4.8 million, and is producing a flat 1.8 18-49 demo so far.
Other than singing competition series The Voice, Parenthood is the
highest-rated series among 18-49 viewers on NBC this season.

Even the network's most-watched series, The Voice, is
down so far, although some of that is because last season's numbers were skewed
because of an airing of The Voice out of the 2012 Super Bowl. This
season so far, The Voice is averaging
12.3 million viewers and a 4.4 rating on Monday nights, compared to 13.9 and
5.2 last season. But on Tuesday nights this season, The Voice is averaging 11.6 million viewers and a 4.0, compared to
last season's Tuesday night results show which averaged 9.7 million and a 3.6.

A few series currently airing on NBC have fallen off the map
for advertisers. Fashion Star, which averaged a 1.6 18-49 demo last
spring, is now averaging a 0.7 in the demo. Smash, which averaged a 2.3
last season, is averaging a 0.9.

As far as returning or new series, Fox also has little to
crow about. Its one bright spot has been midseason drama series The
, which is averaging 8.5 million viewers and a 2.8 18-49 demo
rating, making it the fourth most-viewed new series and the second most watched
among the 18-49 demo among freshman shows.

Veteran drama Bones is averaging 7.6 million viewers,
up from 6.9 million last season, and it is flat in the 18-49 demo with a 2.1.
Fox's Sunday animation block is also holding up decently, with The Simpsons
flat with a 2.8 demo rating, Bob's Burgers up to a 2.0 from a 1.9 and Family
down to a 2.8 from a 3.0. American Dad is also just down
slightly in the demo to a 2.2 from a 2.3, and The Cleveland Show
is flat at a 1.7.

But Fox can't say the same for the 18-49 ratings of its
veteran sitcoms. They are all down sizably in the demo. New Girl is down
from a 2.9 to a 2.2, Glee is down from a 2.7 to a 2.1 and Raising
is down from a 2.0 to a 1.6.

And then, of course, there's American Idol. On
Wednesday nights, Idol is down from
an average viewership of 18 million last season to 14.2 million this season,
although last week the number was closer to 11 million. Its Wednesday 18-49
rating is down to a 4.4 from a 5.4 last season. On Thursdays, Idol is
averaging 13.5 million, down from 16.4 last season, with a 4.0 demo rating,
down from a 4.7.

And the network's other singing competition series, The X
, averaged 8.4 million viewers and a 2.9 18-49 rating in its
Wednesday and Thursday airings, in fourth quarter before it ended its season.
Those are down from an average 11.4 million viewers and a 3.7 demo rating last

So, much like NBC, Fox is going to have to come up with some
programming solutions in its current development season.

ABC is in better shape than NBC or Fox heading into the
upfront because it has more shows with better 18-49 ratings to package up for

ABC continues to have a hit in sitcom Modern Family
which, while it has slipped a bit in viewers and in the 18-49 demo, is still a
top rated show. The series is averaging 9.6 million viewers and a 3.6 demo
rating, down from 10.1 million and a 4.1 demo rating last season.

ABC also has a couple of solid dramas in the veteran Grey's
which is averaging a 2.9 18-49 rating, and Once Upon a Time,
which averages a 2.7. Moving Revenge from Wednesday nights to Sundays
proved to be a good move for the network. The drama is averaging a 2.3 18-49
rating on Sundays, up from a 2.1.

Two ABC sitcoms, The Middle and Suburgatory, are each averaging 2.1 in the 18-49
demo, and veteran reality series The Bachelor averaged a 2.7 in the
demo, up from a 2.6 last season.

But like Fox, ABC's signature competition series, Dancing
With the Stars
, is on a steady decline. The series on Monday nights
averaged 17.2 million viewers and a 3.1 18-49 rating last season, and this year
so far it is averaging 14.2 million and a 2.4. Likewise, on Tuesday nights,
last season it drew 15.4 million and a 2.9 demo rating, while this season it is
averaging 13.4 million and a 2.3.

ABC also introduced a slew of new series and few of them have

With the most stable schedule, CBS will again be in the
driver's seat in this year's upfront because it will have the least number of
holes to fill. NBC clearly has the most openings on its schedule and Fox is not
that far behind. ABC has fewer holes but a few of them are very important,
particularly 8 p.m. Thursday.

NBC is trying. According to a programming report
by Brad Adgate, senior VP, director of research at Horizon Media, NBC has the
most pilots in development with 30, including 17 comedies and 13 dramas.