[MUD-Dev] [NEWS] The Latest in TV Reality

Michael Tresca talien at toast.net
Mon Oct 27 18:16:56 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

From: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-tv26oct26,1,7646809.story

Note the references to "video games" being the reason for the drop
off. It took awhile for gaming companies to realize that the enemy
wasn't other games, but TV.  Fear the day when TV realizes the enemy
is other games...

Mike "Talien" Tresca
RetroMUD Administrator

By Meg James, Los Angeles Times, 10/26/2003

One month into the new TV season, overall audience levels have taken
a hard tumble from those last year. New shows have sputtered, and
scores of established series have slipped in the standings. Even
some of the biggest hits -- "Friends," "ER," "Survivor," "CSI" and
"Monday Night Football" -- have lost millions of viewers. Network
executives can't explain it.

"When there are so many top 10 shows showing significant declines,
and on different networks and on different nights of the week, you
really start wondering what's going on," said Mitch Metcalf,
scheduling chief for General Electric Co.'s NBC. "A lot of us are
scratching our heads." The mystery of the more-than-3% drop could
end up costing broadcasters tens of millions of dollars.

The networks sold a record $9.3 billion in prime-time commercial
spots for the season -- by promising advertisers higher ratings. If
viewership levels don't creep up soon, networks will be forced to
give advertisers millions of dollars in free air time to make up for
the faulty ratings guarantees.  Advertisers, which allocate their
money based on ratings points, are watching closely.

"It's a big concern, particularly when you're paying the kind of
dollars that we have to pay, and the target audience that we're
looking for is shifting away from the networks," said Bill Cella,
chairman of ad-buying firm Magna Global USA. Most advertisers are
being cautious, he said, holding off on new orders, and that is
causing the market to soften.

There are a lot of reasons for the viewership slide, though they
don't necessarily add up. A major one is undoubtedly the stellar
ratings for the Fox Broadcasting Co.'s telecasts of Major League
Baseball playoffs and the solid performance of the World Series,
also on the News Corp.-owned network.  That has enabled Fox to steal
from its rivals and be the only broadcaster to increase viewership
this season -- it's up 32%.

"Baseball has just been a beast to compete against," said Lloyd
Braun, entertainment chairman at Walt Disney Co.'s ABC. "It's been a
real anomaly this fall." Cable channels have picked off some of the
network's viewers by offering original programming. And, as always,
there are other entertainment options, such as video games and
big-screen movies, to lure people away from the tube.

TV executives noticed that they had a problem as soon as the fall
season began last month -- long before the baseball playoffs heated
up. One demographic group, in particular, was noticeably smaller:
young men. The industry is fretting as 8% of men ages 18 to 34 have
apparently sworn off television this season.

"It's hard to buy into the explanation that all of these young men
suddenly decided to stop watching television at the same time," said
Braun, who speculated that a factor for ABC could have been two
lackluster "Monday Night Football" matchups. NBC and Viacom Inc.'s
CBS have suffered the biggest overall losses. Both are down 14% this
season in the 18-to-49 age group that advertisers pay the most to
reach. NBC's top comedy "Friends" is down 25% among such viewers,
and CBS' "Everybody Loves Raymond" has dropped 22%.

The smaller networks that target younger viewers -- Viacom's UPN and
the WB -- also have felt big ratings bites. The WB, for example, has
seen nearly one-fifth of its audience evaporate. The network is
owned by Time Warner Inc. and Tribune Co., which also publishes The

"We're staring at numbers that don't make any sense," said Jordan
Levin, co-chief executive of the WB network. "If these declines
continue, it's going to cost the industry hundreds of millions of
dollars over the course of the year." The problem hasn't struck all
networks equally.

Disney's long-suffering ABC hasn't felt the sting as harshly as its
rivals.  Its ratings are flat overall and are down only 3% among
those 18 to 49. On the other side of the scale, some shows have
posted gains, including NBC's reality contest "Fear Factor" and
newsmagazines such as NBC's "Dateline" and ABC's "20/20" and

In their quest for answers, executives at networks that have been
hardest hit have been hounding Nielsen Media Research, the firm that
measures TV audience levels. The executives say the sudden drop in
viewership suggests that Nielsen's numbers are faulty. No other
company calculates TV ratings, so there is no way to independently
verify its findings.

What's more, Nielsen relies on 20-year-old technology to estimate
audience levels. In the 5,100 homes nationwide wired by Nielsen,
viewers must punch buttons on VCR-size boxes connected to their TV
sets when they watch a show.  Critics have long wondered whether
Nielsen viewers actually do this every time they sit down to watch
TV. That raises questions about the validity of the data that are
culled each night from participating homes and sent to Nielsen's
clients, the networks, by dawn.

In September, Nielsen began "weighting" its sample to better reflect
the viewing preferences of people who may have been underrepresented
in the past, including younger families and Latinos. The recent
change, Nielsen representatives say, made their measurements more

After carefully reviewing its systems and methodology, Nielsen has
concluded that the declining network-watching numbers probably
reflect something that broadcasters don't want to hear: Fewer
people, particularly fewer young adults, are tuning in. "From
everything that we've looked at, this appears to be a reflection of
a real change in viewing behavior," Nielsen spokeswoman Anne Elliot

Unlike the networks, cable channels that target younger viewers have
been adding viewers -- although not enough to explain the
broadcasters' losses.  Ratings for Comedy Central are up 14% among
viewers 18 to 34, Elliot said.  And some of the cable channels
haven't experienced the same exodus of young men: MTV's ratings are
up 8% among men 18 to 34, and FX is up 58%. "But we're talking about
very, very small audiences, so it doesn't take much to effect a
percentage change," Elliot said.

Nielsen's conclusions aren't so far-fetched, said Brad Adgate,
research director for Horizon Media Inc., an ad-buying agency. He
said TV executives searching for answers should start with their own
schedules. "They're not putting on a lot of shows that might appeal
to a 25-year-old," he said.  "These guys are probably doing
something else -- playing video games or surfing the Internet or
reading Maxim."

The tough climate has made it especially difficult for the networks
to gain traction for new shows. Viewers haven't warmed to series
such as NBC's "Coupling," ABC's "Karen Sisco," CBS' "The Brotherhood
of Poland, N.H." and the WB's "Tarzan."

Fox on Monday tried to launch two shows it had promoted throughout
the baseball playoffs: a new incarnation of "Joe Millionaire" and
"Skin," a stylized Romeo-and-Juliet story featuring a clash of
families involved in politics and pornography.

Despite the hype, the shows opened with a whimper. "We were
disappointed," Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman said. "We
recognized a little later than our colleagues at the other networks
how difficult it is right now to reach out to that younger audience
that we all covet."

To try to drum up more viewers, networks plan to take a page from
cable and start "double-pumping" episodes -- running them twice in
one week -- of series they think have potential to attract an

For now, Fox's rivals are looking forward to the finale of the World
Series this weekend, hoping that some of their viewers will
return. And they also are thankful that daylight saving time ends
today, which they hope will mean more people staying home at night
snuggled up in front of the TV.  Advertisers, meanwhile, say that
despite the apparent audience erosion, they're not ready to turn off
the networks just yet.

"We're not ready to drive in the death knell for broadcast
television," said Tim Spengler, director of national broadcast for
Initiative, a major media-buying agency. "The networks still provide
our advertisers the greatest platform to build their brands and
drive their sales."
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