This story first appeared in the Jan. 10, 2013 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Walt Disney Co. CEO Robert Iger called DVR penetration "the story of the year." The device liberated the schedules of nearly 50 percent of viewers and is causing execs to gird for battle with buyers who balk at paying for ads beyond the industry-accepted metric of C3 (commercial ratings plus three days of delayed viewing). For the fourth quarter, every broadcast net save for NBC (up 19 percent because of DVR-proof Sunday Night Football and The Voice) is down. Among the premium 18-to-49 demo, Fox tumbled 29 percent year-over-year, while CBS is down 18 percent and ABC by 7 percent. But once seven days of delayed DVR viewing are factored in, those numbers rebound. CBS has eight programs averaging a seven-day DVR lift of 3 million viewers or more, including The Big Bang Theory, Person of Interest and Elementary. Speaking Dec. 5 at a New York conference, CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves predicted the industry will adopt a seven-days-of-delayed-viewing currency by mid-2014, saying, "C7 is closer than you think."
NBC's The Voice
Adding a fall installment of the singing competition might have seemed a risky move when it was announced in May. Would viewers want that much Voice? The answer, it turns out, is a resounding yes. The show not only delivered 206 percent and 40 percent year-over-year demo upticks for Monday and Tuesday nights, respectively, but also helped lift long-suffering NBC from No. 4 to No. 1 this fall for the first time in nine years. Now that's something worth singing about.
It's hard to top the year Kimmel has had: a gig as emcee at both the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner and the Emmys; a chance to interview his idol David Letterman in his native Brooklyn; an opportunity to move into late-night's coveted 11:35 p.m. slot in January. That's on top of ongoing ratings growth for his decade-old ABC show: Jimmy Kimmel Live! is up 7 percent in total viewers, its biggest-ever fall audience, making it the sole late-night series on broadcast to expand its viewership this season. Kimmel attributes much of that growth to the show's often-viral comedy bits, ideally suited for the YouTube era. In fact, JKL's YouTube channel has more than 600,000 subscribers and about 800 million views thanks to videos like "Movie: The Movie" and early hit "I'm F--ing Matt Damon." "This might be a case where viewers who've abandoned TV in favor of the Internet are finding out about us on the Internet and coming back to TV," says Kimmel. "More likely, it's probably just dumb luck."
Showtime's Homeland swept the Emmys, while AMC's The Walking Dead beat out its broadcast competition to become fall's top-rated series. Even as the broadcast networks post declines, FX's Sons of Anarchy has won its time period among cable and broadcast more than once. More surprising, A&E's unscripted Duck Dynasty is handily beating its cable -- and a few of its broadcast -- rivals. "When we were developing [it], we knew we had something different and exciting," says A&E president Bob DeBitetto of a series that shattered the net's ratings record when 6.5 million viewers -- including 3.9 million among the 18-to-49 demo -- tuned in for the second-season finale. "This isn't 'train wreck' reality. This is an immensely entertaining, engaging family that you want to spend time with every week."
Panned by critics and its 3.5 million premiere viewers, Lifetime's Liz & Dick killed comeback talk for Lohan (paid only $250,000, per a well-placed source).
The British mogul's Midas touch might be wearing off. The high-priced makeover of The X Factor's second season -- including a reported one-year, $15 million deal for Britney Spears -- added buzz but zero ratings. With NBC's The Voice invading the fall lineup, X Factor has tumbled double digits since its first season, and on Dec. 13, Epic Records CEO L.A. Reid announced he won't return for the third. While X Factor still pulls decent ratings in the key 18-to-49 demo, Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly noted that the net is "paying more for talent at a time the ratings are going down." Waning interest has spread across the pond: The Dec. 9 ninth-season finale of the original British show was its lowest-rated since 2006.
The good news under incoming president Jeff Zucker is, there's nowhere to go but up. The network hit a 21-year ratings low for second-quarter 2012. While the presidential election brought CNN atypical wins, it was the only cable news net to report declines for the year, falling 3 percent in primetime viewers (670,000) and 1 percent in the 25-to-54 demo (219,000). The losses during total day (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) were even more severe: CNN averaged 408,000 viewers (down 15 percent) and 131,000 in the demo (down 18 percent). Already there is speculation that Zucker, who set NBC's Today on its 16-year win streak and arrives in mid-January, might move Piers Morgan Tonight out of its 9 p.m. slot and try to recruit deposed Today co-host Ann Curry. Sources at NBC News say many are bracing for attempted poaching to begin among talent and producer ranks. But "that's nothing new," says independent news analyst Andrew Tyndall. "What is remarkable is how little CNN promotes from within and how thin their bench is."
Broadcast's Freshman Class
"Lackluster" is the term used to describe this year's new crop on the Big Four networks, which, save for NBC's The Voice-boosted Revolution and CBS' Elementary, lacked a bona fide hit. The disappointment was greatest among comedies, where there wasn't a single half-hour to rank among the Nielsen Top 30 in day-of ratings. (Only Revolution made it on the drama side.) Although CBS pulled two of its four new projects (comedy Partners, drama Made in Jersey) and NBC's Animal Practice quickly was euthanized, Fox's freshman offerings fared the worst. The network's two new half-hours -- critically praised Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project -- are averaging only a night-of 1.4 rating and 1.8 rating, while the net's first-year drama The Mob Doctor averaged an anemic 1.0. Asked why he hadn't pulled the latter, Reilly said: "What are we supposed to do? Take it out and just rifle something else in there? You're just exacerbating the problem [by doing that]."