At last, reality TV
wins buyers' hearts

Well, not really. Rising ad tide lifts all genres.

By Kevin Downey

    What's gotten to be almost a cliché about reality television is that viewers may love the shows but advertisers don't and that they avoid them.
  That appears no longer to be the case, especially for summer reality programs.
   And it is most certainly not the case with NBC, which airs more reality shows than any other network and to generally good ratings. That's according to Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Entertainment.
   Zucker, meeting with reporters last week at the Television Critics Association tour, said that reality shows have bumped up ad spending $30 to $40 million at the network over the summer.
   But if that is true, and it would appear to be, it has more to do with the recovering media economy than with advertisers growing more fond of reality shows.
   Advertisers are simply getting less picky.
   The recovering ad economy had led to advertisers chewing up whatever rating points are out there, and that has been driving up prices just as the summer's increased ratings from reality shows have been growing the pool of ad time.
    “We are in the business of trying to reach target audiences, so anytime a network can offer a way to do that, whether it’s reality or not reality, we respond to it,” says Chris Geraci, director of national TV buying at OMD USA.
   “It’s that simple, and you are seeing some better ratings in parts of the year than you have before. For the most part, there is original programming in place where there wasn’t original programming before.”
   Ratings have been up all summer.
   The adult 18-49 rating is up 2 percent on the six broadcast networks through July 14, meaning more points are available for advertisers to buy.
   The total audience is also up 2 percent over last year, to an average 33.8 million people, based on Nielsen Media Research data.
   A good part of this summer’s ratings increase in the 18-49 demo comes from UPN’s 18 percent year-to-year bump, but five of the six major networks are flat or up over last summer.
   The only exception is NBC, but even that network is doing well.
   While NBC’s rating is down 9 percent in the 18-49 demographic, the network said last week that its rating is up 7 percent when sports like last year’s NBA games aren’t included in the comparison.
   Above-average ratings for reality shows are responsible for much of network TV’s ratings growth.
   Reality shows account for 19 percent of primetime programming hours this summer but 25 percent of gross rating points, according to a Magna Global USA analysis of Nielsen data. Only dramas account for a higher share of GRPs. At 32 percent of the primetime hours and 29 percent of rating points, however, that genre is under-delivering.
   Of course, not all reality shows are pulling strong ratings. But the most successful ones in the genre are among this summer’s highest-rated shows.
   NBC’s “For Love or Money” has the highest rating for the summer through July 20, with a 4.6 in adults 18-49, according to Magna, while the network’s “Last Comic Standing” is tied at No. 6 and CBS’s “Big Brother” ranks No. 10.
     Those reality shows share the top 10 with repeats of dramas like CBS’s “CSI” and sitcoms like NBC’s “Friends.”
   Perhaps more big ratings for reality will make the genre more palatable to advertisers, but, if not, the growing number of shows should make it easier to sort through for acceptable content. Nearly 20 reality programs have premiered so far this summer, and more are coming.
   “There is still a hesitancy among advertisers, although it’s not as strong as it used to be,” says Susan Hajny, broadcast research manager at GSD&M.
   “I think many of the shows have proven themselves and are not as offensive as they were once thought to be.”

July 29, 2003© 2003 Media Life

-Kevin Downey is a staff writer for Media Life.

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