Sweeps Favor Three Top Talkers

The results of this year’s February sweeps are in, and while household numbers tend to be on display, syndicators mostly sell on the basis of their shows’ performances among women 25-54.

In that key daytime demographic, only three syndicated talk shows gained year to year: Disney-ABC’s Live With Kelly and Michael, which had its best February in seven years in the demo, improving by 6% year-to-year; Debmar-Mercury’s Wendy Williams, which had the best February of its six seasons and grew 8%; and NBCUniversal’s Jerry Springer, which gained 13%.

Results for this year’s all-important February sweeps—the time of year when ratings for syndicated shows are at their highest—are somewhat skewed due to NBC’s airing of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, throughout half of last year’s sweeps.

“No matter who you are and where you air, you are ratings-challenged,” says Mort Marcus, copresident of Lionsgate-owned Debmar-Mercury, which distributes three shows that all had strong February sweeps: Wendy Williams, Family Feud and rookie Celebrity Name Game, which will return next season. “With Wendy, Feud and now Celebrity Name Game, we have three of the few shows that are showing growth.” “Wendy is an efficient buy because of its audience composition,” says Ira Bernstein, copresident of Debmar-Mercury. “If an advertiser is buying Ellen, for example, they are paying almost double the price to get the same audience.”

While there is less focus on the women 18- 49 demographic, Debmar-Mercury points out that it sells 40% of its advertising inventory in the show against that demo, and the show now ranks second of all talkers in that demo, tying Live, Warner Bros.’ Ellen DeGeneres and NBCUniversal’s conflict talker Maury. Only one talk show, CBS Television Distribution’s talk leader, Dr. Phil, beat Wendy in that demo and only by one-tenth of a point.

In fact, Dr. Phil led the field in February sweeps in all demographics, although the show was down 10% among women 25-54 to a 1.8. While several talkers saw some steep drops in the demo, Sony Pictures Television’s Dr. Oz was down the most, losing 38% to a 0.8 after seeing plentiful downgrades at the start of this season.

Women Are Game for Games

A look at women 25-54 also tells a different story when it comes to game shows. While CTD’s stalwarts, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, remain the household leaders—and the hosts of those shows, Pat Sajak, Vanna White and Alex Trebek were renewed through the 2017-18 season—the Steve Harvey-led FamilyFeud is closing in on them in households and leads all of syndication among women 25-54.

In the February sweeps, Wheel of Fortune improved 3% in households to a 7.6, while Jeopardy! jumped 6% to a 7.4. Feud, by comparison, improved 17% in households to a 6.8. Among women 25-54, however, Feud is the clear leader, gaining 10% year-to-year to a 3.3, compared to Wheel and Jeopardy!’s 4% drop in the demo to a 2.7 and 2.5, respectively.

Family Feud is the syndication leader among women 25-54, followed by CTD’s Judge Judy at a 3.1 and then Wheel, Jeopardy! and CTD’s Entertainment Tonight at a 2.0, Dr. Phil at a 1.8 and Live at a 1.7. “Family Feud is a household story and a 25-54 story,” says Bernstein. “When you compared it to Wheel and Jeopardy!, we beat those shows in the demo, but it’s also growing in households.”

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.