Networks declare ratings victory, go home until fall

May 26, 2004|By David Zurawik

Each year as the May sweeps ratings period winds up, the networks all declare themselves victorious - one way or another - and this year apparently is no different.

Though the period doesn't officially end until midnight, CBS yesterday declared victory. "CBS will win the May sweeps in viewers, and that's a remarkable accomplishment considering that NBC had two mega-finales in Friends and Frasier," CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves said in a telephone news conference.

Overall, Moonves is right: CBS attracted an average prime-time audience of 12.68 million viewers, the most for the May sweeps period.

Nonetheless, by the end of the week, NBC undoubtedly also will claim victory. Indeed, it attracted the largest percentage of viewers aged 18 to 49 years, the demographic most desired by advertisers. And, CBS edged out NBC by a razor-thin margin, by attracting only 280,000 more viewers per night, according to the most recent figures from Nielsen Media Research.

Still with 52 million viewers for the final episodes of Friends and 25 million for Frasier, NBC can't be happy about not taking the month both in demographics and overall viewing. Such a victory would have once and for all allowed NBC to claim an undisputed victory over CBS.

Fox, too, will probably have reason to brag. The ratings for tonight's broadcast of American Idol have the potential to push the network into second place - behind NBC but ahead of CBS - in viewers 18 to 49 years old for May. ABC will finish fourth overall, with WB and UPN bringing up the rear.

While new technology that provides overnight ratings in most major cities has lessened the importance of the month-long sweeps ratings periods, they still are used to set advertising rates throughout the year. The end of May sweeps, which marks the end of the official television season, also indicates the annual rankings for the networks.

In an unrelated industry development yesterday, MTV Networks announced a name and start date for a new cable channel of programming targeted to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans- gendered viewers. The LOGO channel will premiere Feb. 17. MTV's intent to launch such a channel had already been widely reported.

"LOGO is about identity, the individual and collective identities present in the gay and lesbian communities that are amazingly diverse but also joined by similar points of view and sensibilities," Judy McGrath, president of the MTV Networks, said in a telephone news conference yesterday.

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