Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fact Checking the Network TV Upfronts


Some statements made by executives during their upfront presentations last week seemed a bit suspect. We looked into a few of them:

"The Following is the No. 1 new show of the season." (Fox)
"Revolution is the No. 1 new show of the season." (NBC)
"Elementary is the No. 1 new show of the season." (CBS)

Who's on first? Just about everyone, if you believe the networks' ratings hype. But it all depends how you slice it, and the tricky thing about Nielsen ratings is that they can be parsed just about any way a person likes. Season to date, Fox's Kevin Bacon thriller The Following is averaging 5.3 million viewers in the adults 18-49 demographic, while NBC's post-apocalyptic drama Revolution is on track to attract 5.2 million viewers in the same group. In the inexact world of ratings, a tight margin like that is frequently touted by network numbers crunchers as a "virtual tie." For now, NBC can still get away with the No. 1 tag for Revolution, but Fox execs believe they have the momentum of DVR usage on their side. "The trajectory for the full season is in our favor," says a Fox spokesperson.

Of course, Fox and NBC are fighting over the crown for top new show in a key demographic that advertisers care about the most. CBS execs point out that Elementary, which averages 12.8 million viewers, is the most-watched new show of the year, ahead of The Following (11.6 million) and Revolution (10.6 million). "Is it No. 1 in demos? No. Is it No. 1 in viewers? Yes. Can we build the demos like we did with Person of Interest? Yes we can," says Kelly Kahl, senior executive vice president of CBS Primetime.

“When you Google 'Big Bang Theory,' you get our show, not the creation of the entire universe." (CBS)

CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler was having some fun with the idea that a search engine would return more results for a TV show than it would a scientific theory about the birth of the universe. Her statement is true – although the very first entry for the words "Big Bang Theory" is for an ad purchased by TBS, which airs The Big Bang Theory in syndication. The show's search engine prowess probably shouldn't be a surprise: Big Bang Theory is supported by countless fan sites, marketing campaigns and feature articles. Actual science, not so much.

But to be fair, when most people describe the actual cosmological model of the universe's origins, they just call it "the Big Bang." Type only "Big Bang" into the search engine, and the Wikipedia page for the scientific theory is the first result that pops up. Interestingly, the second item that appears is a dark horse in the title fight: South Korean pop group Big Bang, which apparently was very popular five years ago. CBS' page for The Big Bang Theory is No. 3.

"ABC is the No. 1 television brand in America." (ABC)

When ABC Entertainment president Paul Lee touted the network's position as TV's top brand, it was a way to spin reporters and media buyers from ABC's ratings truth: ABC will end the year in fourth place. According to the network, the "No. 1 TV brand" ranking comes from Solutions Research Group, which has surveyed 1,400 consumers online annually over the past six years. Respondents are given a list of 74 broadcast and cable networks and asked which seven channels would be on their "must keep" list.

After ABC, the rest of the top ten (in order) were CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN, History, Discovery, HBO, USA and PBS. ABC's competitors note that the "No. 1 brand" stat isn't something that can be used in actually selling ad time, which is still the main purpose of the upfront presentations.

MORE UPFRONTS: Upfronts 2013: Kanye Rants, "Psych" Dances, Robin Williams Quips and Much, Much More

Mike On Radio: Previewing This Week's Network Announcements with Kevin & Bean

Mike on Radio: Talking the TV Upfronts with KCRW's "The Business"

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