Summer TV Heats Up: Broadcast TV Ratings Review

The summer television season in the United States was once a barren terrain consisting of re-broadcasted programming from the main television ratings “sweeps periods”, also known as “reruns”. It has also been a time for some limited engagement mini-series type events, and when I was a child I remember ABC TV out of New York running children’s movies in primetime slots during the summer months. The other broadcast channels would use the primetime slots to broadcast “second run movies” during the week, and especially on Saturday nights from May through early September.


That dynamic then changed slightly to a situation where the “Big Four” networks (later adding CW Network, Univision, and My Network Television) would be comfortable in conceding the summer months to the cable networks. They would let the cable networks dominate the ratings without putting much effort into production of any new programming options.


Eventually, due to the growth of cable and satellite television providers, and the advent of internet streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon; the major networks decided to become real competitive players in the once dormant summer broadcasting period.


Summer Ratings Heat Up


The decision by the “Big Four” broadcasters (plus the CW network which skews towards the key summer demographic: kids, tweens, teens, and young adults all home from school) has created a scenario where the summer TV ratings and subsequent advertising dollars are becoming a growing ancillary revenue stream for the networks.

The timing of the decision about 4 years ago was right too, Americans were caught in the grip of an economic recession. Many families were forced to forego their usual summer vacation plans, and very hot periods of weather in the summer of 2010 and 2011 kept people indoors which drove up television viewership levels.


Each of the “Big Four” networks have, over the course of the past two to three years, developed their own “mainstay” show which drives their summer programming. Currently, it is 12 weeks into the summer television season (which begins the day after the May sweeps period ends) so I thought it would be an ideal time to review the ratings for this summer.


First, some background on each network and their approach to summer programming:

  • NBC – their approach at “the Peacock” to the summer months centers around two programs: America’s Got Talent (A.G.T.) and Night Shift. They run the A.G.T. talent search program on two nights: Tuesday (new content) and Wednesday (the results show). The show has been a huge success for the network and is a family friendly show which is appealing in the summer.
  • CBS – they bank their success on science fiction type programming to capture the interest of the crucial 18-49 ratings demographic with Under The Dome (which set summer ratings records for them in 2013) and a new program featuring Academy Award winning actress, Halle Berry, called Extant. The strategy at CBS, like everything else they do lately, has been very successful. Extant has the best ratings of any new show this summer. Then the long time mainstay program The Big Brother reality series came from out of nowhere to outperform expectations and become a huge hit for the network this summer.
  • ABC – the summer season is jump started by the NBA Finals with live sports television being the new gold standard for television ratings. This summer’s edition of basketball’s biggest series provided a huge ratings boost to the network with a 6.1 rating and a 20 share in the 18-49 demo per Nielsen. Then in mid-June (the NBA Finals ended on Father’s Day) the network shifts to their other summer centerpiece The Bachelor/Bachelorette reality series depending on where they are in that cycle. The summer of 2014 brought a Bachelorette series into the mix which ended up being the 8th most watched program in total viewers and made it into the Top 10 at the 10th spot of top ratings for the 18-49 age group with a 2.07 Nielsen rating.
  • FOX – their strategy was to reintroduce a short series run of their one-time hit show 24 starring Kiefer Sutherland, called 24 Live Another Day which is an action/suspense thriller type program. The strategy worked with the program in the Top 5 for overall viewers this summer. Their other featured summer program is the cooking competition series with the volatile and unpredictable celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey titled Master Chef.


Summer TV: By the Numbers


After 12 weeks, the summer TV ratings have solidified to the point where some finite results can be determined. The ratings from Nielsen are based on the total of 115.6 million television households in the United States with a single ratings point representing 1% or 1.156 million households tuned to the program. The share is the percentage of all the televisions in use during that time slot which are tuned to a specific program. In the most recent data from Nielsen, the ratings breakdown is as follows:


Total Ratings by Network:

  • ABC and NBC are tied at the top of the leader board in the total ratings with a 1.4 and a 5 share in the 18-49 demographic. However NBC has the edge between the two in total viewers with 5.48 million compared to ABC with 5.1 million – both figures for both respective networks are down 7% from last summer.
  • FOX is in third place, just barely, with a 1.2 rating and a 4 share of the 18-49 demographic which is down 14% from last summer.
  • CBS is in fourth place with a 1.1 rating and a 4 share of 18-49 which is down 8% from the summer of 2013. The silver lining is that CBS averages 5.83 million primetime viewers this summer, which demonstrates the trend of older viewers who tend to be loyal to the network.
  • CW Network (joint venture between CBS and Warner Brothers) is last with a 0.3 rating and 1 share of 18-49. However their total viewership number is 7% higher than last summer.


Top Shows by Total Viewers


  1. America’s Got Talent (Tuesday) =         12.5 million average
  2. America’s Got Talent (Wednesday)=   10.3 million average
  3. Under The Dome    =                                  10.1 million average
  4. Extant                        =                                  9 million average (best new show)
  5. 24: Live Another Day        =                      8.55 million average
  6. Night Shift                            =                      8.3 million average
  7. Unforgettable                     =                      7.65 million average
  8. Bachelorette                        =                      7.35 million average
  9. Big Brother  (Sunday)       =                      7 million average
  10.  Big Brother (Wednesday) =                   7 million average


Top Shows in 18-49 demographic

The following are the top shows in the 18-49 demographic which is important to note because while another show might have more total viewers, the shows that rank highly in this list can charge more for advertising time which generates more revenue for the network.  This list is calculated by overall 18-49 group rating:


  1. America’s Got Talent (Tuesday) = 3.1
  2. Big Brother (Thursday) =                            2.49
  3. Big Brother (Sunday) =                  2.45
  4. Big Brother (Wednesday) =         2.43
  5. Under the Dome =                         2.43
  6. 24: Live Another Day =                2.39
  7. America’s Got Talent (Wed.) =    2.38
  8. Master Chef =                                 2.31
  9. Hell’s Kitchen =                               2.16
  10.  Bachelorette =                               2.07
  11.  American Ninja Warrior =         1.92
  12.  So You Think You Can Dance=  1.84
  13.  Night Shift =                                   1.83
  14.  Extant =                                           1.68




The cursory review of these results provides apparent conclusions on the demographics of certain programs. A show such as Big Brother is at the bottom of the Top 10 in overall viewers, yet it compromises the second, third, and fourth place slots in the 18-49 demographic which aptly reflects the younger audience for the program.


Stephen King’s science fiction concept, Under the Dome, is third in overall viewers with a whopping 10.1 million viewers for a summer show, but it ranks 5th in the 18-49 demo with a 2.43 rating. That reflects two issues, a stronger viewership in older viewers which is interesting given the content of the show, and a loss in viewers that is trending downward. The show has been killing off popular cast members, causing some viewers, my wife and I included, to discontinue viewership of the program.


The reboot of Jack Bauer’s character in 24: Live Another Day is 5th in overall viewers and 6th in 18-49 aged viewers which demonstrates the appeal to that demographic almost exclusively.

The ABC reality series The Bachelorette, is 8th in total viewers and 10th in the 18-49 category proving that the program appeals to a range of audiences including an older audience of people over 50. This series is the only top 10 program for ABC and it hurts the network because they cannot sell advertising time for the show anywhere near the rates that the other 3 networks can command.  NBC has A.G.T. which is the top show in 18-49 ratings, CBS has Big Brother which is a powerhouse show for the target demographic as well as Under The Dome, and FOX has 24 which is 6th in the coveted 18-49 ratings.


Finally, the group of shows Extant, Unforgettable, and Night Shift are great examples of programs that receive excellent overall ratings and limited to no 18-49 demographic support. Extant pulls down an average of 9 million viewers, yet it is fourteenth on the 18-49 list. Night Shift on NBC is very similar with 8.3 million total viewers and a thirteenth place showing in the 18-49 bracket. Unforgettable on CBS is the 7th most watched show of the summer and is not anywhere near the top 15 in the 18-49 group meaning that the majority of those viewers are older based on the time slot and data, they are not younger than 18.


Summer Ratings Outlook


The data is clear, the broadcast networks have come to compete with the cable networks and the internet streaming services for viewers and ratings. Some of the networks have been pretty innovative in producing limited summer series which have captured viewers, others have gone the reality show route or the talent competition route to draw in viewers.


This data proves that many Americans enjoy watching television and demand more choices and options, even in the summer time. The data has even driven some networks to end their summer series during the same week their Fall television programs are set to premiere. A few years ago that decision would have been unthinkable.

It is also apparent from this summer television data that whether you are watching Jack save the day on 24, Big Jim and the next problem the dome will dish out on Under the Dome, Halle Berry’s struggles with re-entry from a long “solo” mission in space on Extant, or the next contestant to move forward on America’s Got Talent; summer television programming is here to stay.


The summer television terrain is no longer a place for second run movies and rebroadcasts of earlier programs, it is a place dominated by new content and original programming. That is a welcome change for both the networks and the viewers.


(Ratings data, demographic data, advertising revenue data, total TV market/share data courtesy of AC Nielsen, Ad Age, The Wire, and TV


MLS Roundup: All Star Week Edition

This week in MLS (Major League Soccer) was a busy one between the All Star Game festivities in Portland, OR and the news surrounding some of the flagship franchises in the league. The news cycle even featured a couple of stories about the potential expansion of the league.


I will provide some perspective on the week that was in MLS as the league continues to ride a surge of momentum from the World Cup in Brazil.


Empire State of Mind


The week began with the news revolving around the two New York Metro area franchises: the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC (who will begin play in 2015). The Red Bulls have been dealing with some negative media attention since the story broke that they had whiffed on bringing in international superstar, Xavi, who looked certain to be headed there to play in MLS.


The story deepened with a report that Xavi decided to not play for the Red Bulls because he learned that their current captain and star player, Thierry Henry, was not returning to the team next season. Henry is in the last year of his contract and the negotiations on a potential new agreement had been problematic over the past few months. The news that he may not be returning has been met by a mixed set of emotions from Red Bulls fans: shock, anger, frustration, and others who are ready to move on from Henry to a different core star player.


New York City FC was in the mix to sign Xavi but they failed to do so, as the European superstar has decided to remain in Spain. The burgeoning expansion team which will play its home matches in the storied Yankee Stadium then announced a mega deal with Frank Lampard, who subsequently was featured on all the team’s on-line promotional efforts. The deal is for 2 years and it is believed to be the most expensive annual salaried contract in MLS history.


In other New York soccer news:

  • New York City FC announced the launch of their Facebook page (now that they have a few players signed to the roster)
  • New York Red Bulls and their sporting director, Andy Roxburgh, spent all week refuting media reports connecting aging star Ronaldinho with being targeted by the team. Roxburgh reiterated that the Red Bulls are not interested in bringing him on the roster but that he would be a welcome addition to MLS overall
  • Thierry Henry received a wonderful ovation from the crowd at the All Star Game in Portland on Wednesday night which was a very nice gesture by some of the most spirited fans in MLS



All Star Display


The MLS All Star team displayed their talent and demonstrated the improved skill level of the league by defeating Bayern Munich in the game held in Portland. The week leading into the game and the event on Wednesday night showcased the immense popularity of soccer in Portland, where fans are known to sleep outside to get tickets that do not go on sale on the website because every match is sold out.


The atmosphere and the crowd singing the National Anthem in unison, as well as the Portland Timbers mascot using a chainsaw to slice a section of wood off a tree every time the home team scores a goal; these are the sights and sounds of soccer in the Pacific Northwest.

It was all on full display on ESPN in a nationally televised event that will further boost the profile of the league heading into their new TV contract next season. That new TV contract will:

  • Retain ESPN as a broadcast partner which they have been since the beginning of MLS
  • Add FOX Sports and their 1 year old specialty sports channel, FOX Sports 1, to the mix of national coverage of MLS
  • NBC Sports will no longer cover the MLS after the end of this 2014 season
  • MLS leveraged a great deal because they added the second New York team and they have expansion teams already announced in Atlanta and Orlando
  • MLS was able to retain ESPN who wanted to keep a toe hold in soccer after losing the rights to the World Cup
  • MLS is able to partner with FOX Sports who is the new rights holder for the World Cup in the future
  • The new TV contract is going to create more “stand alone” featured games on Sundays throughout the MLS season


California Dreaming – Expansion Round Up


Those of you who read my coverage of MLS on my blog and on two other websites know that I have covered the topic of expansion extensively in the past. The latest developments on that topic was in the news cycle this week as well:

  • David Beckham is still trying to get a deal done on a stadium in Miami for his expansion bid there. MLS has been firm that they will not expand there until the stadium plan is in place. I have written previously about how the Port of Miami would not work and that idea is no longer being considered.
  • Beckham’s former team, Manchester United defeated Liverpool earlier this week in Miami in front of over 51,000 fans at the stadium where the Dolphins play NFL football. Beckham’s group is looking at stadium sites in Broward County – north of the City of Miami
  • The owners of the Sacramento Kings of the NBA have announced their intentions to purchase the minor league soccer team, the Sacramento Republic, who lead their league in average game attendance. The city also ranked very high in the television ratings for the World Cup and both of those factors have been noticed by the MLS executives in charge of expansion.


One Era Closes – Another Opens


The MLS has never been more popular than it is currently, and the interest seems to be on an upward growth trend. A new era for the league is on the horizon. This week we learned that Landon Donovan, one of the original stars and one of the most recognizable American soccer players, will be retiring at the end of this season.


Donovan and his fierce competitiveness and incredible talent has left an indelible mark on the MLS. His presence will be missed, but his time and his era is coming to a close. The league is poised to grow into new markets and attract increasingly talented players from the international ranks as the popularity of soccer increases in the sport’s “final frontier” as it has been called: the United States.


 (Some background information courtesy of, NBC Sports,,, Miami Sun-Sentinel, FOX Sports, and Sacramento Bee) 


NFL & Recycling: Detroit Lions “Turn It Green” Campaign

The National Football League is busily preparing for another season in about a month from today, currently the players are getting ready at training camps across the country. The Detroit Lions will be wearing new practice jerseys at camp on August 6th that are bright green in color and made from recycled materials.


The new uniforms mark the start of the team’s recycling campaign which is called “Turn It Green” and will have a social media hashtag of the same name to be used across Twitter, Facebook, InstaGram, and the other platforms.


The uniforms are made by Unifi and are part of their Repreve line of sports equipment made from recycled materials. Each jersey is made from 21 recycled bottles and the Lions will be giving away towels to fans who attend their practice session which are made from 3 recycled bottles each.


The campaign will also have a promotional contest where fans can enter to win a chance to throw the ball on the practice field with the Detroit Lions quarterbacks. The “Turn It Green” program will highlight the benefits of recycling and the team is adding several in-stadium recycling receptacles at Ford Field for the upcoming 2014 football season.


Raising Awareness


The announcement of this program featured some statistics on recycling including the fact that only 30% of the plastic bottles used in the U.S. are recycled. In fact, 75% of our overall garbage is recyclable in the U.S. but only 30% of that overall total is recycled.

Americans generate 21.5 million tons of food waste each year, which if it was composted, would be the equivalent reduction of greenhouse gases in the environment as if 2 million cars were taken off the roadways.


This campaign will raise awareness to the many benefits of recycling for our communities and the NFL and the Detroit Lions deserve credit for putting this program in motion. The NFL has more fans than any other sport in the U.S. and if this program reaches even a portion of them and changes their perception of the importance of recycling it will be a positive step in the right direction.


The use of social media and the contest are great ways to interact with their fans which is so important in marketing any type of campaign today. The program was certainly well thought out, and I will be interested to see if other NFL teams follow suit with similar initiatives in their community affairs and stadium operations.


I know the sight of the Lions taking the practice field in bright green uniforms will be a big change from their usual appearance, but it is for a very important reason, to raise awareness of the importance of recycling to protect our environment and conserve our natural resources.


(Background courtesy of CBS, statistics courtesy of and