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Media Agency Ratings Estimates Project Another Lackluster Season for Broadcast

Media buying agencies may have spent hundreds of millions of their clients' ad dollars on commercial time in broadcast primetime shows for the new season, but their C3 18-49 demo ratings estimates once again shows a lack of enthusiasm for potential breakout new hits.

The agencies agree that the networks continue to face a loss of viewers to digital streaming video competitors but that reality does little for their marketer clients, who each year in exchange for the millions they spend hope to strike gold buying into a major freshman or returning hit.

"There are no new shows for the coming broadcast network season that are causing any excitement," says one agency executive who providing ratings estimates to B&C but asked not to be identified. "There are no new shows causing buzz like Lost, Desperate Housewives and the original Heroes did in years past."

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Part of the dilemma, agency executives agree, is that unlike cable networks, which can put on shows that target a specific demographic, broadcast networks have to put on shows that have to please multiple demographics as part of a mass audience. The median age of the broadcast network audience is also much older than cable and it’s harder to succeed by putting on shows with out-of-the-box concepts that can work better on cable.

"Succeeding by pleasing multiple demographics with one show is much harder today than ever before," an agency executive says. "It’s also harder to draw big movie stars to broadcast network projects. There is a massive time commitment making 22 first run episodes compared to 12 for cable and less for other over the top platforms."

One agency executive predicts broadcast primetime 18-49 C3 ratings will be down anywhere from 5% to 10% this season, adding, "this won’t be because the networks aren’t trying."

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Not only will there be few "hits," but also what constitutes a hit or even what level rating determines if a show will be renewed is completely arbitrary in today’s TV universe.

"With perhaps a few exceptions, there isn’t a clear ratings threshold that guarantees a show’s renewal anymore," another agency exec says. "The [broadcast] five-network prime average is a 1.3 among adults 18-49. There are so many other considerations for a show’s longevity these days – social following, critical acclaim, syndication possibilities – that it’s difficult to predict."

He says his agency has "built a pretty successful prediction model for series renewals," but that "ratings aren’t even part of it." He adds, "there is so much content available in so many places year-round that the very concept of a television season is starting to feel outdated."

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And so devoid of breakout hit potential are any of the new broadcast network series, particularly those being introduced in fourth quarter, that two media agencies who provided B&C with their ratings estimates can’t even agree among themselves as to how well each show might do. Primarily because there are so many criteria that do go into judging their potential for success or failure.

Heading into last season at this same point in time, agency ratings estimates projected that Supergirl and Limitless on CBS, Blindspot on NBC and Scream Queens on Fox had the best chance of succeeding. Three of the four, sans Limitless, were renewed. Although Supergirlmoved from CBS to The CW, of which CBS owns a portion along with Warner Bros.

However, this season neither agency, based on their ratings estimates, agrees on any new show that might succeed. In a few instances, the ratings estimates were elevated not based on a show’s own merits but on the fact that they are leading out of a highly watched returning series that will artificially inflate audience, at least for initial tune-in.

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Here’s one agency’s projected Top 10 freshman series based on C3 18-49 ratings estimates: Pitch, Fox (2.9); Son of Zorn, Fox (1.9); Notorious, ABC (1.8); Prison Break, Fox (1.8); Timeless, NBC (1.7); Conviction, ABC (1.7); This is Us, NBC (1.6); Speechless, ABC (1.4); The Great Indoors, CBS (1.3); Trial & Error, NBC (1.3); and Kevin Can Wait, CBS (1.3).

The second agency’s projected Top 10 include: Kevin Can Wait, CBS (2.9); The Great Indoors, CBS (2.3); Timeless, NBC (2.2); Lethal Weapon, Fox (2.1); Designated Survivor, ABC (2.0); Notorious, ABC (1.8); Man With a Plan, CBS (1.8); Bull, CBS (1.6); Son of Zorn, Fox (1.5); Conviction, NBC (1.4) and This Is Us, NBC (1.4).

Among the shows that got low ratings estimates in the C3 18-49 demo by both agencies were The Exorcist on Fox, The Good Place on NBC, and MacGyver on CBS.

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One agency projects a 0.9 for The Exorcist, while the other estimates a 1.06. For The Good Place, one agency projects a 0.6 with the other estimating a 1.1. And both agencies project a 1.0 rating in the demo for MacGyver.

The highest rated C3 18-49 demo freshman series last season was CBS sitcom Life in Pieces, which averaged a 1.9, the exact rating estimated by each of the two agencies in last year’s B&C ratings article heading into the season.

Overall, in primetime last season, only 14 shows (excluding Thursday night and Sunday night football) averaged more than a 2.0 C3 18-49 demo rating. For this season, the agencies are projecting 15 shows, excluding the two nights of football, to score C3 18-49 ratings of a 2.0 or better.

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Both project Fox drama Empire to be the top-rated scripted show in broadcast primetime once again (5.3, 5.8), followed by CBS’ sitcom The Big Bang Theory (3.6, 3.7). Last season Empire averaged a 5.4 C3 18-49 demo rating, while Big Bang averaged a 3.9.

NBC’s Monday edition of The Voice is estimated to produce a 2.8 demo rating by one agency and a 2.9 by the other in fourth quarter. That would be on par with last season’s average of 2.75.

The agencies also agree that ABC drama How to Get Away With Murder will average a 2.5 in the demo, similar to last season’s 2.4. While one agency is projecting ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy to average a 2.3, similar to last season’s 2.4, while the other agency sees Grey’s doing a bit better at 2.6.