Ad Men Target ‘Big Bang Theory,’ Football for Their Bucks
TV advertisers are likely to pin their hopes this fall on a sitcom warhorse that is swiftly pulling away from the rest of the pack, despite its age.
CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory,” about to enter its seventh season, is viewed as the scripted program that will garner the most viewers for which advertisers will pay come the fall. While NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” will continue, unsurprisingly, to draw the biggest ad-watching audiences between the ages of 18 and 49, “Big Bang Theory” will follow immediately behind, according to a Variety survey of commercial-ratings estimates for the coming primetime schedule from four media-buying agencies. Not only is “Big Bang” expected to trounce Fox’s venerable “American Idol,” but it is also seen as likely to buoy CBS freshman comedy “The Millers” to possible hit status.
While program ratings continue to snare the attention of the viewing public and TV executives, advertisers find them less valuable. Since May 2007, sponsors and ad buyers have looked instead at the number of viewers 18 to 49 who watch a particular show within three days’ of its on-air debut — and don’t skip the ads. The measure known as C3 (or commercial ratings-plus-3) became part of negotiations between networks and their advertisers as increasing use of DVRs eroded viewership of programs, as well as the commercials that interrupt them.
The recently completed 2012-13 season was viewed with horror by many ad buyers. Indeed, as of June 16, season-to-date 18-to-49 ratings at the Big Four were down 10%, according to Nielsen.
Ad buyers sense fewer dramatic moves coming in the autumn. Ratings erosion may continue, but not at off-the-cliff levels. “I’d be surprised, and Lord knows I’ve been surprised before, but I don’t see any 25% drop in a network like we came close to seeing in this current season,” said Sam Armando, senior veep at media-research firm SMGx. Armando also doesn’t see any outsize gains, such as those NBC enjoyed last year when it put “The Voice” on in September for the first time. Instead, he expects improvements in specific time periods where the networks have moved proven returning shows into underperforming timeslots.
“Big Bang” has clearly become more important to CBS in the past few seasons, vying with “American Idol” for ratings primacy on some nights in recent years — meaning it can wring more cash from sponsors. At the same time, it has played an instrumental role in helping the Eye establish a Thursday night beachhead for comedy, a block once housed primarily on Monday nights on CBS. Thursday, though, is the night movie studios and retailers depend upon to get the word out about Friday-night openings and weekend sales events.
This fall, CBS will expand its Thursday-night comedy block to two hours from one. Sandwiched between “Big Bang” at 8 p.m. and “Two and a Half Men” at 9:30 p.m. are “The Millers,” an 8:30 p.m. sitcom created by Greg Garcia that focuses on a divorced man whose parents move in with him, and “The Crazy Ones,” a comedy featuring Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar as a father and daughter working together at an ad agency.