For the first time in history, NBC concluded the February sweeps period (in which networks’ respective popularity is gauged) in fifth place, behind CBS, FOX, ABC and even Univision.
Ironically, NBC’s highest-rated program, which placed 35th in the sweeps, was “The Biggest Loser.”
For the first time in about a decade, the perennially fourth-place network CBS sat right at the top of the heap. Rival ABC is capitalized on NBC’s descent, regularly and gleefully sending out email blasts to reporters describing how ABC is closing in on the ratings in NBC’s sacred territory – the 6:30pm nightly news program. ABC is also making progress in the morning breakfast hour, while CBS is feeling optimistic in both time slots thanks to an aggressive campaign focusing on hard news rather than fluff.
The fall is surprising, considering NBC thrived last fall, powered by the ratings-rich drama-filled Summer Olympics and shows like “The Voice” and “Revolution.” It seemed that NBC was slated to live up to its once-famous slogan, “Must See TV.”
In addition, revenues for the broadcast division of NBC Universal surged 27 percent last year to nearly $8.2 billion, and operating cash flows rose almost 200 percent to $369 million. Even excluding this year’s highly-watched Olympics and Super Bowl, revenue for NBC was up 4.8 percent.
Despite NBC’s decline in viewership, Comcast agreed to pay $16.7 billion early last month to buy General Electric’s remaining 49 percent stake in NBC Universal, even though executives have acknowledged in the past that turning around NBC would take a long, long time. As it stands, NBC’s prime-time lineup loses well over $100 million a year.
NBC, a trailblazer in American television programming over the last 25 years, once boasted a Thursday night “Murderers’ Row” lineup that sparked envy among other network executives. With titles like: “The Cosby Show,” “Family Ties,” “ER,” “LA Law,” “Cheers,” “Seinfeld” and many others, it seemed like NBC had a Midas touch.
One possible explanation for the decline is arrogance. NBC grossly misjudged what its audience wanted to watch in prime time. In the TV industry where well-paid executives rely on focus groups and exhaustive research to make programming decisions.
“For NBC, the problem is also one of perception. The network has lost its buzz altogether. In America nowadays, part of the fun of watching a hit show such as “Downton Abbey” or “Girls” or “Homeland” or “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad” is gathering the next morning at the proverbial water cooler and talking animatedly with your friends all about the heroes and villains and plot twists.
When was the last time you waited for your coffee and overheard someone excitedly discussing “Whitney” or “Guys with Kids”? With recent Thursday night mainstays like “The Office” and “30 Rock” ending their runs, NBC’s prime-time schedule has a dearth of even middling hits.” – The Fiscal Times