I'm a numbers guy. I started college as a math major before switching to a dual major of journalism and political science. So I enjoy looking over ratings and explaining what they mean in the television business.
People can forget TV is a business. It is increasingly becoming a more difficult one for broadcast networks. Critics – and I include myself – often overemphasize household ratings. The business is more reliant on demographics because that's what advertisers care about and they pay the bills. Which brings me to the local household and demographic ratings for the recently-concluded May sweeps. I'll try to keep the numbers down in explaining what Western New York is watching.
Locally, Buffalo is a big CBS market because the network's programming appeals to older viewers. WIVB Channel 4, the local CBS affiliate, had 19 of the Top 25 programs in household ratings locally. Channel 2, the local NBC affiliate, had the other six. The ABC, Fox and CW affiliates were shut out.
The top-rated programs in households here were CBS' "The Big Bang Theory" (15.9) rating and "NCIS" (14.1), which are aging shows. "Big Bang" still gets a strong rating in the age 18-49 demo that is important nationally and is No. 1 in the age 25-54 demo that is important locally. But the rating that "NCIS" gets in the 18-49 demo is lower than the NBC sitcom "Superstore" and the ABC sitcom "The Middle."
"Big Bang" and "NCIS" are No. 1 and No. 2 in the age 35-64 demo, which Channel 4 is trying to get advertisers to value more because people in that category have more money. Viewers in that demo also are more likely to watch network shows. Younger viewers gravitate to streaming services and pay-cable programs.
Here are some more interesting things to note locally from the May sweeps:
- NBC's three Dick Wolf series set in Chicago, "Chicago Fire," "Chicago Med" and "Chicago PD," have a higher 18-49 rating than "Big Bang" and "NCIS." And all three Chicago shows have a higher 25-54 rating than "NCIS."
- The aging ABC comedy "Modern Family," which saw two male teenage characters in the season finale graduate from high school, didn't make the Top 25 in household ratings but is No. 2 in the age 25-54 demo locally, behind only "Big Bang."
- CBS' claim that the new Michael Weatherly drama "Bull" is the season's No. 1 new show is deceptive. It gets the top household rating in May of any new series, but ABC's freshman series "Designated Survivor," has an 18-49 rating that is almost twice that of "Bull." NBC's "This Is Us," which ended its season early, didn’t have a May sweeps episode but also has much stronger demos than "Bull." Even CBS' aging "Blue Bloods" and "Undercover Boss" get higher ratings here than "Bull" in that demo.
- ABC's "Scandal," which is about to enter its seventh and final year, hasn't been a big hit here in household or demographic ratings. ABC's aging and ageless "Grey's Anatomy" has an 18-49 demo here that is twice that of "Scandal," which has the same rating in that category as "Bull."
- In reality show competition, NBC's "The Voice" gets a 18-49 demographic rating here that is more than twice ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." The granddaddy of all reality shows, CBS' "Survivor" also has an 18-49 rating more than twice "DWTS."
- Fox's "Empire" is a national hit and does well by the standards of local Fox affiliate WUTV. But its 18-49 demo here is the same as the Fox comedy "The Mick" and lower than "The Family Guy." It is even lower here than "Blue Bloods."
That might tell you more than anything about the difficulties of the Fox network in the Buffalo market.
Since the conservative Fox News channel has reportedly taken a national hit in prime time and is facing increased pressure from its liberal cable news competitor, MSNBC, inquiring minds want to know: What is happening in Buffalo?
Fox News remains No. 1 here but its dominance of a year ago in prime time here has taken a big hit, too. Fox News, which has had to deal with the firing of popular host Bill O'Reilly and management departures, averaged a 2.2 local rating in the five weeks that started in May. MSNBC averaged a 1.34 rating for those weeks and CNN a 0.86 rating.
A year ago in May, Fox News averaged a 2.8 rating here in prime time, more than triple the combined rating for MSNBC (0.5) and CNN (0.4).
The closest MSNBC, which has surged nationally under host Rachel Maddow, came to Fox News locally was the week of May 15, when Fox won, 2.1-1.6, over MSNBC. CNN was third here with a 1.5 in a rare week when the combination of its two competitors exceeded the ratings for Fox News.
CNN clearly is the third choice locally. The last time it beat MSNBC for second place was the week of Jan. 16.
Fox News was No. 1 nationally among total viewers for the month of May but MSNBC was No. 1 nationally in the key age 25-54 demographic during weekdays. Fox News won the demo when adding the weekend. Locally, Fox News won the demo, but its victory was by a much narrower margin this May than it was a year ago.
The digital news site The Wrap recently noted that the Trump administration has fueled national interest in cable news. That is true in Western New York, too. The three channels had a combined 4.4 rating points in prime time Buffalo in May, compared to a 3.7 a year ago.
One of the highlights of the "Saturday Night Live" season was having strategist Steve Bannon being comically portrayed as The Grim Reaper and suggesting he was really acting as president and not Donald Trump.
The recent "Frontline" episode, "Bannon's War," illustrated that comical portrayal has a ring of authenticity. The program illustrates the strong influence Bannon has had on Trump's "America First" agenda, partly because Bannon has an overall philosophy that he has been able to sell to a president who doesn't have one.
The hour, which some viewers might find scarier than any Stephen King novel because of Bannon's background, also illustrates the strategist got back into Trump's good graces after briefly being in disfavor because he was committing the cardinal Trump sin of getting too much publicity.