TV's Thursday night cage match
ABC and NBC are both planning to put high profile shows up against CBS' monster hit "CSI." Who will emerge victorious?
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - NBC and ABC are apparently tired of watching CBS dominate the ratings on Thursdays, one of the most important nights of the week for network broadcasters.
NBC announced on Monday that its eagerly awaited new drama, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," will air on Thursday nights at 9 PM EST, directly up against CBS's runaway hit "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," which has dominated the ratings for the past few years.
And now, in an aggressive move, ABC is set to make a big play for the lucrative Thursday night crowd as well. The network announced on Tuesday morning that it is planning to move "Grey's Anatomy," which currently airs on Sundays at 10 PM, to Thursday nights at 9 PM as well.
"We want viewers making appointments with ABC Television every night of the week," said ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson in a written statement Tuesday.
ABC is expected to give more details about the decision at its upfront presentation to advertisers on Tuesday afternoon. All the major networks are unveiling their 2006-2007 schedules this week in New York in order to woo marketers and secure advertising commitments for the upcoming fall season.
Thursday night smackdown
ABC's move was a big surprise to many in the television industry.
Several analysts and media buyers expected ABC to shift "Grey's Anatomy" to Monday nights to replace the void being left by the move of "Monday Night Football" from ABC to fellow Walt Disney (Research)-owned cable network ESPN. "Grey's Anatomy" has averaged 19.9 million viewers a week, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Instead, "Grey's Anatomy" will now face the highest-rated drama on TV and third highest-rated show overall. Averaging 25.2 million viewers a week, "CSI" trails only the Tuesday and Wednesday night airings of Fox's "American Idol" for the title of most watched show.
"I just think it's crazy. There is an embarrassment of riches in one time period. Why don't networks counterprogram?" said Shari Anne Brill, vice president and director of programming with Carat USA, a New York-based media buying firm.
Brill said that it would have made more sense for ABC to put "Grey's Anatomy" on Monday at 10 PM since she thinks it would have had a better chance of taking viewers from "CSI: Miami," which has averaged about 18.1 million viewers a week.
She added that it may be difficult for NBC's "Studio 60," a drama created by "West Wing" brainchild Aaron Sorkin and featuring former "Friends" star Matthew Perry, to attract an audience since it will be going up against two formidable, already-established dramas.
But John Rash, senior vice president and director of broadcast negotiations with Campbell Mithun, a Minneapolis-based ad agency owned by Interpublic Group, said the scheduling decisions by ABC and NBC, which is a unit of General Electric (Research), do make some sense.
At a time when many advertisers are worried about the effectiveness of their commercials as more and more users fast forward through them with digital video recorders or simply shun TV altogether in favor of the Internet, Thursday night has remained a crucial night for the networks and advertisers.
"The economic imperative with Thursday night, with so many people watching television and making purchasing and entertainment related decisions for the weekend, makes this the most important night of the week for advertisers," Rash said.
Still, Brill wonders if the networks aren't doing themselves harm by all trying to put top shows directly against each other. If the Thursday night at 9 PM slot becomes increasingly fragmented, nobody really wins.
"It seems like the goal of programming strategy is more about hurting the other guy than growing your own network," Brill said.
TV for the MySpace generation
This network, which now has affiliate agreements to air in more than 90 percent of the country, is aiming for the youngest segment of the advertiser-coveted 18-49 market with shows that will air in a telenovela format: nighttime soap operas that run five nights a week for 13 straight weeks.
News Corp. is banking on this format being as big a hit in the United States as it is in many other nations across the globe as well as with Spanish-language broadcasters domestically.
During the network's upfront presentation Tuesday morning, executives also stressed the importance of online programming as part of MyNetworkTV's strategy.
Bob Cook, president of News Corp.'s Twentieth Television unit, showcased a demo of the MyNetworkTV.com site, which featured original online videos that could also be e-mailed to cell phones, as well as social networking functions similar to the popular MySpace site that is also owned by News Corp.
Campbell Mithun's Rash said that News Corp. put on an impressive presentation but said he was not sure the MyNetworkTV format would necessarily be as popular in the United States as it is worldwide since younger viewers in America tend to have far more entertainment options.
"The challenge is to get people not already entrenched in network television," he said. "But I'm not sure if this programming genre will do it."
Carat's Brill did see some promise for the network though. Even though several people at the MyNetworkTV upfront openly snickered at some of the dialogue and scenes from previews of the new shows, she said that there clearly is an audience that might embrace the programs, which feature attractive young casts.
"Advertisers are buying time in daytime soaps. Shows that are campy have had a following," she said.
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