CBS Rides NFL to Vie for Young Viewers After 20 Years

(Corrects timing of new games in 11th paragraph of story published May 14.)

CBS Corp. (CBS), the perennial second-place network with the younger prime-time viewers prized by television advertisers, is poised to claim that crown for the first time in two decades with its new schedule.

The network, the U.S. leader in total viewers for nine of 10 years, hosts Super Bowl XLVII in February and a crucial prime-time National Football League playoff game, promising two of the largest audiences of 2013. At the same time, Fox’s “American Idol,” a longtime hit with viewers ages 18 to 49, is down 30 percent in that group.

With the most-watched prime-time lineup already, football- rich CBS will outdraw News Corp.’s Fox and the other networks next season in the target group, predicts Brad Adgate, research director at Horizon Media, a New York ad company. CBS Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves “guarantees” the network will lead all others in advance sales and in ad rates.

“There’s little standing in CBS’s way,” Adgate said in an interview. “It’s theirs to lose.”

Broadcast and cable networks unveil their September 2012 schedules this week in upfront meetings with advertisers in New York. Comcast Corp. (CMCSA)’s NBC introduced its lineup yesterday. News Corp.’s Fox network releases its schedule today. The network is poised for its eighth-straight win this season in the 18-to-49- year-old demographic, carried by “American Idol.” Walt Disney Co. (DIS)’s ABC takes its turn on May 15.

CBS, which took in $9 billion in TV, radio and billboard ad (5BP) sales last year, introduces its plans May 16. The network has renewed two-thirds of its schedule, including “NCIS,” the most-watched scripted program, according to Nielsen data, and “The Big Bang Theory,” the No. 2 comedy with young viewers. It also renewed “Two and a Half Men” with Ashton Kutcher, while canceling “CSI: Miami.”

Ad-Rate Increases

Chris Ender, a spokesman for CBS in Los Angeles, declined to comment on ratings predictions for next season, as did Gaude Paez, a spokeswoman for Fox.

CBS expects to win ad-rate increases in excess of 10 percent and post larger gains than competitors, Moonves said in March and May. The network charged an average of $191,800 for a 30-second spot in prime time in March, the latest month available, compared with $247,500 for Fox, $85,000 for NBC and $83,100 for ABC, according to Nielsen data supplied by Adgate.

Sports will play a starring role.

In addition to the Super Bowl, which drew a record 111.3 million viewers to NBC this year for the New York Giants’ victory over the New England Patriots, CBS will carry the American Football Conference championship in prime time, Chief Financial Officer Joe Ianniello said on a May 1 call. Fox’s evening coverage of the NFC finale in January attracted 57.6 million viewers, to rank among the year’s most-watched programs.

$4 Million Spots

CBS is also adding seven National Football Conference games starting in the 2014 season as part of a new nine-year $9.5 billion NFL broadcast pact.

The network will seek $4 million for 30-second commercials during the Super Bowl, scheduled for Feb. 3 in New Orleans, Moonves said on a February call.

Moonves, 62, who joined CBS in 1995 after running Warner Bros. Television, has never won with the younger demographic, placing second in seven of the past eight years, according to Nielsen data. CBS’s last victory in 18-to-49 was in 1991-1992, when the network carried “Northern Exposure,” the Winter Olympics and the Super Bowl.

“Moonves says when he started at CBS the sexiest thing on the schedule was Angela Lansbury,” Adgate said. “He’s transformed that network.”

At the same time, the competition is in decline. As of May 6, Fox is averaging 4.06 million younger viewers this season, an 11 percent decline from a year earlier, according to Nielsen data. CBS is unchanged at 3.83 million, while ABC is down 3.7 percent to 3.09 million. NBC is drawing 3.2 million, a 4.2 percent increase.

Absent Friends

Next season, Fox’s “House” and ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” aren’t returning, the networks announced earlier.

“American Idol,” which has delivered the biggest 18-to-49 year-old audience for seven straight years, is averaging 7.6 million viewers in the demographic over two nights a week, a 30 percent drop. That’s more than the 10 percent drop Fox entertainment chief Kevin Reilly forecast in January as the aging singing contest began its 11th season.

Shares of CBS fell 0.7 percent to $32.80 on May 11 in New York. The stock has gained 21 percent this year, ranking sixth in the 16-stock S&P 500 Media Index. Comcast has gained 24 percent, while Disney, based in Burbank, California, has advanced 21 percent. News Corp. (NWSA) is up 13 percent.

CBS will seek advance commitments for as much as 80 percent of next season’s advertising inventory in meetings with marketers, Moonves said on the May call.

“I know people think I sound cocky about our schedule but we do feel very good about it,” Moonves said. “If we don’t get our right pricing, we’re not going sell. I’m more than happy to hold out.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Andy Fixmer in Los Angeles at afixmer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net

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