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January National TV Numbers Hold Up Despite Ratings Falls

Author: James Fennessy

Strong NFL and College Football results, coupled with The Grammys move to January, keeps TV buoyant

Standard Media Index’s (SMI) just released January data show the six major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Telemundo and Univision), collectively pulled in $1.5 billion in gross ad revenue, a year-to-year increase of 4%. Cable snagged slightly over $1.8 billion in gross ad revenue for the month, a decline of 4.4% when compared to January 2019. Overall, total national television gross revenue fell by a modest 1.2%.

The slight loss in revenue is noteworthy since prime time ratings continue to register significant year-to-year ratings declines. This is a strong indication that despite all the media choices available, national television remains a powerhouse for national advertisers, despite continued audience erosion. Viewability and fraud issues are still causing major concerns for leading marketers. Several networks including CBS, Univision and Hallmark bucked the trend and delivered a strong January.

Among the bright spots were postseason ratings for NFL which averaged 33.9 million viewers, similar to last January’s ten games. Coming from a position of strength (regular season ratings were +5%), there is the expectation the NFL will open up negotiations for broadcast TV rights later this year looking for significant rate gains of up to 30%. The current broadcast TV contract expires in 2022.

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Broadcast TV by Network

SMI’s number show that in January the gross ad revenue for total day on CBS grew by 18%. This was by far the largest increase among the broadcast and cable networks. The underlying reason for this growth was moving The Grammy Awards from February 2019 to January this year, to avoid conflict with ABC’s Oscars telecast. Despite advertisers paying a premium for the Grammys, the telecast has followed other premiere awards shows, delivering its lowest audience in twelve years.

With a strong regularly scheduled programming lineup and still the most-watched network, CBS also had the highest ad revenue in entertainment primetime programs. Helping to boost gross ad revenue was the NFL post season. In January 2020, CBS televised four NFL playoff games, more than any other network and one more than in January 2019. In February 2020, expect a sizeable year-to-year falloff in gross ad revenue, not only did CBS televise the Grammys in February 2019, but also Super Bowl LIII.

Fox, in January 2020, ranked a distant second in gross ad revenue among the broadcast networks in total day edging out NBC. Fox’s total day gross revenues actually fell by 4% YOY. Similar to last year, NBC aired two postseason NFL games and The Golden Globes. While the NFL ratings held up, The Golden Globes hit an eight-year rating low. In primetime entertainment, NBC’s gross ad revenue declined by 6%.

One reason for the Fox’s decline was the network had televised three NFL postseason games in January 2020, compared to four in January 2019. (Fox though will get a significant boost with gross ad revenue in February with Super Bowl LIV.) The network however, reported a much sharper year-to-year decline of 31% in gross ad revenue with primetime entertainment programs. This is a signal that Fox, after selling assets to Disney, will be relying more on live sports and other program types than entertainment.

The network took in less than half the revenue that CBS had earned for the month. In primetime entertainment, ABC ranked third (ahead of Fox), but still had a year-to-year decline of nearly 12%.

Despite the decline, ABC did have one of the most eventful specials of the month, a prime time airing of the four-night, Jeopardy: Greatest of All-Time Tournament. The special was the top-rated Adult 18-49 show each night it aired.

Looking at the two Spanish language networks, Univision joined CBS and NBC in increasing year-to-year gross ad revenue for total day in January 2020, while Telemundo declined. Univision benefitted from strong double-digit year-to-year audience gains in prime time. In January, Univision had garnered over twice the gross ad revenue than Telemundo.

Cable Networks

Each January, ESPN televises a number of college bowl games culminating with cable’s top-rated program, the college football playoff national championship game. This year’s game (LSU over Clemson) averaged 25.6 million viewers, a 1% increase from last year. ESPN’s gross ad revenue jumped 4% over last January. Additionally, for the month, ESPN accounted for 13% of total cable gross ad revenue and had a higher gross ad revenue than its broadcast partner ABC.
With a reliance on holiday-themed movies, The Hallmark Channel has emerged as one of the top-rated entertainment programs on cable television. Gross ad revenue reported a year-to-year increase of 10% in January 2020. Conversely, USA Network which for years was the top-rated cable network has suffered a significant fall-off in ratings in recent years. USA reported a year-to-year gross ad revenue decrease of 24%. With the launch of Comcast’s Peacock in a few months, how much programming investment will be given to USA to keep the library content strong?>

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