TNT Analysis - April 2010

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APRIL 2010 PRIMETIME SCHEDULE:

* Bold denotes programming change

SCHEDULING STRATEGIES:

Monday through Wednesday is TNT's primary focus, where the network has attempted to run original series throughout the year. BONES has become a big part of the schedule, trying to hold up those Monday through Wednesday originals. NBA usually runs on Thursdays, when it's the season, otherwise it's an off-net crime drama and a movie. Theatricals dominate Friday through Sunday.

With NBA playoffs dominating, pre-empting and interrupting the schedule this month, scheduling strategies were more about how to schedule regular programming around the play-offs while converting the younger male ratings spikes to the rest of the TNT line-up.

APRIL 2010 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:

Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / April 2010 vs. April 2009  (% Change)

HH

A18-49

A25-54

Monday 8-11pm

-5%

15%

-1%

Tuesday 8-11pm

16%

1%

4%

Wednesday 8-11pm

12%

-2%

-3%

Thursday 8-11pm

-15%

-14%

-18%

Friday 8-11pm

22%

16%

18%

Saturday 8-11pm

12%

0%

0%

Sunday 8-11pm

10%

15%

13%

MTWTFSS 8-11pm

6%

4%

1%

Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

Don't pay attention to the numbers behind the shading above! With NBA play-offs running nine primetime games over seven nights this month, and ten primetime games on different nights last year, daypart comparisons are invalid. Instead, we need to go to the program-to-program comparisons to get a sense of where TNT is sitting on the ratings heap.

Starting with the tall elephant in the room, let's look at NBA. Regular season games finished up in the first week of April, up from March as the games became more meaningful, but down eleven percent vs. last season's numbers. Regular season games have been down by 25% year over year, so the 11% decline actually shows improvement. When the post-season kicked in, all the viewers were back. TNT's year-over-year playoff numbers are flat for men 18-49 and up 13% for women 18-49. Last year showed strong growth among women basketball viewers as well, a trend we don't read about in the press very often.

SAVING GRACE and SOUTHLAND were the original dramas on the air this month. On Monday nights, SAVING GRACE ran a couple of times in March and returns in May, finishing up for good this summer. Personally, as a fan of the show and someone who is paid to keep track of these things, I can't remember when it is on the air. Not surprisingly, viewers are not finding GRACE either. Numbers are down 27% on core women 2-54 vs. last year.

On Tuesdays SOUTHLAND finished up its season before the play-offs began. SOUTHLAND is a cop drama that shows there is no black and white in police work. "We are gray" as they say on the show. Interestingly, there seems to be no black and white as far as SOUTHLAND's ratings go either. When the network talks about SOUTHLAND the audience is "loyal" and "growing," and the show is "respected" and "rescued." Words like blockbuster, hit and success are not used. In March SOUTHLAND premiered to solid ratings, but numbers settled down quickly, and the program had an older female skew, delivering numbers well below other TNT originals.  However, in April the program outdelivered SAVING GRACE on demo, and went back to a male skew. Plus DVR usage is reportedly spiking audiences by 50% (The Wrap). After the series ran its course, TNT renewed it, asking for 10 new episodes scheduled to start January 2011. If there is a black and white in TV-land, it's the renewal process. Either you are in or you are out, and SOUTHLAND is in.

The only off-net acquisition on the air all year has been BONES. BONES continues its quiet role of lead-in to originals and official space filler-upper (Yes, that's a television term. Look it up.). It also continues to draw strong household and female audiences and has improved women ratings by over 80% vs. last year.

Movies are the final component on TNT, airing from Friday through Sunday. The top performing movie was American Gangster, by a lot. Next was Pretty Woman, driven by women then Gladiator and Walking Tall, driven by men. Movie ratings were basically down vs. last month and flat vs. last year.

CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:

TNT continues to chase the broadcast networks, claiming its reach, production quality and quantity are on par. The development slate is full of the biggest names in television, and no original program makes it to air without major star power behind it.

TNT has hung its hat on original dramas, yet it is struggling in the field it helped to create. We were promised three nights of original programming year-round, but TNT has not been able to deliver. The net is saving its originals for summer with five returning and two new original dramas programmed from Sunday to Wednesday. Looking at the line-up, THE CLOSER is aging, GRACE has been cancelled, and DARK BLUE and HAWTHRONE were marginal hits last summer. LEVERAGE holds the most potential, but can it stand alone on Sunday nights? MEMPHIS BEAT and RIZZOLI & ISLES are the two new dramas from TNT this summer. At least one of them needs to succeed to keep TNT strong.

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