CBS, Fox Declare Season Victories For Different Reasons

The 2010-11 TV season officially ends with Wednesday night’s shows, but both CBS and Fox have already declared victory.

How? By each of them emphasizing different criteria. Both networks issued press releases Tuesday with headlines boasting of their victories. But when you read the announcements more closely, you find that CBS is naming itself the victor “in viewers,” while Fox is basing its own “victory” on “adults 18-49.”

The difference, of course, is that CBS’ claim is based on total viewership, regardless of any age-group restrictions. What CBS is saying is: We won for the most basic of reasons – namely, more people of all ages watched us this season than any other network. And by most people’s yardsticks, this “victory” is the clearest of the two because it addresses the most obvious question most of us would ask at the end of a TV season: Which network had the most viewers? Answer: CBS.

But Fox’s declaration of victory is not without merit because so much TV commercial time is sold on the basis of age. Thus, it’s not insignificant for Fox to be “nearing its seventh straight win among adults 18-49,” as its press release says. Certainly, for the advertising community, if not for the general public, this demographic victory is important.

Even CBS recognizes this. The network has long struggled to persuade the advertising community that its audience is not as old as everyone perceives it is. Even while crowing about its victory in overall viewership, CBS took pains in its press release to emphasize its own victories among 18-49s. The network noted that it placed second in the demo after Fox and in front of ABC and NBC. And that might surprise some who assume that NBC, for example, would be considered the hipper, younger network with such shows as “Chuck” or “The Office” or “30 Rock.”

CBS could also declare a few other victories – such as having the top-rated new comedy – “Mike & Molly” – and drama series – “Hawaii Five-O.” “NCIS” was the top-rated scripted series on any network for the second consecutive season.

Of course, Fox has “American Idol,” which will likely be the highest-rated series — scripted or unscripted — when the final numbers are tallied following Wednesday’s finale.

So, how were they able to declare their victories based on the ratings through Sunday evening, without taking Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night’s shows into account? Well, the research departments at CBS and Fox did some arithmetic and found out it’s mathematically impossible for the results to change based on the final three nights of the season, even though Fox will have its customary season-ending blockbuster night with “Idol.”

Declaring such victories a few days before the season ends is as traditional as the end of the season itself – always on that Wednesday night before Memorial Day Weekend. What’s different nowadays is: Summers aren’t as sleepy as they once were on network TV, due mainly to all of the competitive series that premiere on cable.

Instead of going on vacation for the summer, the broadcast networks – along with their cable counterparts – will begin launching their summer shows as early as next week, before your Memorial Day barbecue has gone cold.

For the record: The final network standings for the 2010-11 season, in average overall viewers nightly from last September through this past Sunday night, looks like this:

1. CBS: 11.647 million
2. Fox: 9.688 million
3. ABC: 8.476 million
4. NBC: 7.041 million

Source: Nielsen

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Mark Harmon in "NCIS."  (Photo: CBS)

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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