Still Rockin' in Wisconsin

No joke—the most dramatic year-to-year ratings increase in syndication
belongs to a comedy. Carsey-Werner's off-network That
'70s Show
, being sold for its second cycle after four seasons in
broadcast syndication, has soared 25% season-to-date. Not only did it rise to
an average 4.0 from a 3.2 in the same months in 2004-05, but it jumped 30% in
February sweeps to a 4.3, according to Nielsen.

That is in contrast to the other aging top-10 off-network sitcoms, which
were down 7%-34% February-to-February. Yet the top three—Everybody Loves Raymond, Seinfeld and
Friends—still posted in the high-5 to
low-7 range in household ratings in February.

Carsey-Werner Distribution President Jim Kraus attributes the
'70s windfall to the show's addition to
the FX lineup last September. The cable network double-runs
'70s weekdays, airing it at 7 or 7:30 p.m.
and then in the 11 p.m.-1 a.m. window.

“Its broadcast run is flat,” says Kraus. “The addition of FX has
added 1.3-1.4 rating points to it in any given week.” He adds that the
broadcast market has responded well to second-cycle sales of
'70s. The distributor has cleared it in
201 markets covering 94% of the U.S.; it airs primarily in access and
early-fringe time periods, the balance in late night.

Top off-network sitcoms, all of which have major cable components,
typically see a ratings spike in the year that their broadcast exclusivity
ends. While '70s was the most dramatic, nationally
syndicated barter shows in general have climbed 8% to 2.7 in households, from
2.5 in the same period last year. In contrast, network prime time is up only
2%, from 5.7 to 5.8, while cable prime is even at 0.5.

But that could change as Nielsen's new live-plus-same-day and
live-plus-seven time-shifted ratings samples rise, along with those of
local-people-meter homes. Some in the industry feel that, as Nielsen adds more
DVR households to the sample and as DVR penetration continues to increase,
ratings will experience a substantial shakeup.

Mags feel Olympic crunch

While syndication has seen a slight bump in the season-to-date
standings, it was a different story in February sweeps. A combination of
preemptions and Olympics competition was a huge disruption for magazine shows.
Paramount's Entertainment Tonight earned
its 62nd straight sweeps win among mags with a 5.5 rating Feb. 2-March 1. It
dropped 4% from February '05. King World's Inside
slipped 3% to a 3.7, while Paramount's
The Insider gained 3% to a 3.0. NBC
Universal's Access Hollywood held up
amidst its massive NBC preemptions, decreasing 7% to a 2.5.

Also faced with major preemptions, Warner Bros.'
Extra factored out the two-plus Olympics
weeks, when it lost more than 10% of its national coverage (the minimum for
taking an exemption). It thus rose 4% to a 2.4 during sweeps.