NBC is considering cutting at 10 p.m. Assigning hours of its primetime schedule and programming duties to local partners, The Wall Street Journal reported on Aug. 26. “Although NBC is the number one network, we are always looking at strategies to ensure that our broadcast business remains as strong as possible,” a spokesperson commented to media, including IndieWire, after the story broke. As a company, our advantage lies in our ability to provide viewers with the content they love across broadcast, cable and streaming.”
OK, but how would killing off a third of primetime programming accomplish this? We’ll get it, but it’s easy to identify the real, unexplained cause, official statement or not: It’s all about cost-cutting.
Live sports, a huge pressure on NBC’s bottom line, is getting increasingly expensive. It also doesn’t come cheap to make Peacock an essential player in the ongoing and content-focused streaming wars. Eliminating one hour of linear television can help offset some of those costs. It doesn’t completely eliminate a revenue stream: NBCUniversal still monetizes its affiliates through an ad-revenue split when local programming is on the air.
Allies, on the other hand, won’t close the primo time slot to better line their pockets. Local-market content, such as news, is much cheaper to produce – and 10 a.m. is better than 11.
Yet 10 p.m. is generally the least-watched primetime slot as people turn off their TVs and come in. This means it brings in the lowest hourly revenue from national advertisers. Partly compensating for those factors is the fact that at 10 p.m. The most delayed watch is primetime hour.
Relative to its competition, NBC tends to be more successful at 10 p.m. Hours it can leave. From September 20, 2021 to the last Thursday, August 25, NBC’s entertainment programming (hence, no games) has an average 0.38 “live” rating. This number increases to 0.56 with one week of (mostly) DVR catch-up viewings. Live + 7 Days is how linear television ratings are generally reported these days; All ratings in this story are Nielsen data.
Meanwhile, CBS averaged a 0.32 Live + Same Day rating; ABC averaged 0.29. With viewing delays, both CBS and ABC reach a rating of 0.46, which is even bigger than NBC. Again, CBS, which is older than the other two networks, ranks first in terms of total viewership during the hour; NBC is second.
NBC, CBS and ABC provide national programming starting at 8 p.m. Until 11 p.m. – aka primetime – from the early days of television. Smaller broadcast networks (both in terms of their lifetime and demo reach) Fox and The CW already kicked off their primetime programming at 10 p.m., handing the reins over to affiliates.
By removing the 10 p.m. hour from that September-August period of NBC (and only NBC), NBC will pass in “live” viewers to CBS. In Nielsen’s Live + 7 Day numbers, CBS will only maintain a 5,000 total-viewership gain on NBC. It’s unfair and fair to look at things this way: On a primetime-average basis, a comparison of 8pm-10pm versus 8pm-11pm puts those networks with 10 p.m. hours at a loss. However, this is nothing new; The industry already does this when ranking Fox and The CW alongside the original Big 3 broadcasters.
Another positive in the prospect of finishing at 10 p.m.: Jimmy Fallon will get a head start on his late-night rivals. “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” currently on “The Tonight Show” on CBS. Like starts at 11:35 pm. on ABC. With no 10 p.m. primetime on the way, Fallen could start at 11 p.m. — even 10:30, if affiliates agree to run local news 30 or 35 minutes late at night (as they currently do).
During the 11-month period we studied for this story, “The Tonight Show” and Colbert tied in the major ratings demos, adults 18–49, with 0.22 each. Colbert grows into view more late than Fallon; Unlike scripted programming, however, talk shows don’t have the big DVR lift. Kimmel is behind the other two in the current September-to-September season, averaging a 0.19 Live + Same Day rating. Delayed viewing may not catch ABC’s Jimmy until NBC.
No matter how you cut it, Colbert is well ahead of his direct competition in terms of total audience. Fallon kicks back by that Nielsen metric, which counts everyone who is 2 or older. (While they certainly retain new parents, a ton of late-night TV-watching babies don’t.) In other words, former late-night TV king Fallon certainly could use an advantage. (If there should be an hour of local programming instead of 30 or 35 minutes, Fallon may receive no prize.