its mojo back
Strong audience #s as the new season kicks off
By Kevin Downey
Healthy ratings for the WB in the first few days of the broadcast season are coming as good news for the sixth-ranked network.
After suffering flat ratings last season and watching rival UPN post year-to-year gains, early indications are that of the two, the WB is about to have the better year.
The WB’s 1.9 adult 18-49 rating last week was nearly 19 percent higher than its average from last season and virtually every new and returning show has had time slot gains in at least some key demographics.
The first episode of “7th Heaven’s” seventh season, for example, had its biggest premiere audience ever with 9.2 million viewers, its best premiere rating for adults 18-49 and for females 12-34, the WB’s core audience.
The WB may also have tackled its problem of finding companion shows for its highest-rated programs. “Everwood” held onto about 81 percent of “7th Heaven’s” lead-in audience.
“Our goal this year, as always, is to break some new shows,” says Paul McGuire, senior vice president of network communications at the WB.
“There have been over a dozen shows that have failed to match up to the ratings of ‘7th Heaven,’ which is monster. We’ve had two airings for ‘Everwood’ and it’s definitely a hit for us.”
The WB benefited last week from premiering more than half its shows before the fall season officially began.
That strategy of getting viewers’ attention while other networks are in repeats is one that began with Fox, which the WB considers its primary competitor.
While the WB’s “7th Heaven"-led Monday lineup seems to be in great shape, the network is also doing well on most other nights.
“Little by little, they are pulling it together,” says Roy Rothstein, vice president and director of national broadcast research at Zenith Media.
“They have the dollars to spend on programming, and now they are putting a schedule together that is going to work, day in and day out.”
The WB had its best adult 18-49 rating ever on a Tuesday this week with the season premieres of “Gilmore Girls” and “Smallville,” which had an audience of 8.7 million and the WB’s second-best adult 18-49 rating ever.
The WB’s Wednesday shows, “Dawson’s Creek” and “Birds of Prey” have not premiered yet. But the premiere of “Family Affair” two Thursdays ago got off to a good start with a 1.6 adult 18-49 rating.
The show’s rating, however, dipped 25 percent in its second week against CBS’s “Survivor: Thailand” and will probably slump further tonight when NBC premieres “Friends.”
On Friday, the WB seems to be fixing the problem it’s had with developing hit comedies.
While the returning “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “Reba” aren’t major hits, nor are the new “What I Like About You” and “Greetings from Tucson,” they do well with the WB’s young female audience.
The WB ranked No. 2 last Friday among women 12-34.
The two-hour season premiere of “Charmed” last Sunday pushed the network to its best ever rating on that night for most major demographics, including adults 18-49 and women 18-34.
“The WB has made a concerted effort to develop quality shows,” says Rothstein.
“There is definitely room for a network like the WB because there aren’t many networks delivering the younger audience, but the WB is doing a good job of getting those viewers.”
The upbeat news for the WB may be putting to rest the idea that the future of the AOL Time Warner network is in doubt.
While talk about the network’s demise has mostly been silenced over the past few years, as the WB built itself into a female teen-oriented network, that type of chatter resurfaced earlier this year.
“I would completely dismiss such a notion,” says McGuire.
“We are poised to be profitable this year, and based on our ratings, we are very happy to be who we are and where we are.”
September 26, 2002© 2002 Media Life
-Kevin Downey is a staff writer for Media Life.