CBS marks historic victory with ratings sweep among youth

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

NEW YORK -- CBS claimed a "sweeps" month victory among youthful viewers for the first time since 1980 -- a milestone even the network's top executive never thought he'd see.

With two days to go, CBS had a comfortable lead among viewers aged 18 to 49 during November, one of four months where Nielsen Media Research ratings are used to set local advertising rates. ABC and NBC were fighting for second.

CBS has been the most popular network among all viewers for the past few years, but the 18-to-49-year-old demo is the industry's chief currency. Advertisers pay a premium for youth and CBS's generally older audience has been a handicap.

"We are about to accomplish something that many thought was impossible for this network," said CBS chairman Leslie Moonves. That included himself when he started in 1995, he conceded. Moonves' fortunes have risen with the network; he's now co-chief executive of CBS' parent company Viacom.

Moonves couldn't resist a little crowing. In a conference call with reporters, he read old, sarcastic quotes about CBS' geriatric audience. Two of them were uttered by NBC executives.

"We put those quotes on our locker room wall and it served us very well," he said.

To put the victory in perspective, CBS' schedule included "The Waltons," "Dallas" and "M-A-S-H" the last time it happened.

Moonves said it vindicated CBS's strategy of trying to appeal to the widest possible audience in hopes the younger viewers follow, instead of simply pandering to youth.

He said he expected the victory to pay off in May, when advertisers commit to spending money for the following season; that high-stakes financial competition has been consistently won by NBC.

Among all viewers, CBS is actually down compared to last November. But the network took advantage of NBC's struggles in the post-"Friends" era. ABC is up compared to last year and Fox is generally flat.

A classic teaser episode -- who's going to be killed on Wisteria Lane? -- led ABC's "Desperate Housewives" to a series-best 27.2 million viewers Sunday. It was the most popular show on television during Thanksgiving week.

CBS easily won the week, averaging 13.9 million viewers (8.8 rating, 15 share). ABC had 11.1 million (6.9, 11), NBC had 10 million (6.2, 10), Fox 7.5 million (4.4, 7), the WB 3.9 million (2.6, 4), UPN 3.4 million (2.2, 4) and Pax TV 570,000 (0.4, 1).

NBC's "Nightly News" won the evening news ratings race during Tom Brokaw's final full week as anchorman, averaging 11.3 million viewers (7.7, 15). ABC's "World News Tonight" had 10.1 million viewers (6.9, 13). On the week Dan Rather announced he was stepping down as "CBS Evening News" anchor, this show averaged 7.9 million viewers (5.4, 10).

A ratings point represents 1,096,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 109.6 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.

For the week of Nov. 22-28, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: "Desperate Housewives," ABC, 27.2 million; "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Thanksgiving Special," CBS, 24.4 million; "CSI: Miami," CBS, 22.1 million; "Without a Trace Thanksgiving Special," CBS, 19.8 million; "Two and a Half Men," CBS, 18.9 million; "Everybody Loves Raymond," CBS, 18.5 million; "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," ABC, 18.2 million; "60 Minutes," CBS, 17.7 million; "Cold Case," CBS, 17.5 million; "Survivor: Vanuatu Thanksgiving Special," CBS, 16.5 million.


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