The Big Four networks are heading into January with a chance to do something they have not done in more than a decade: Grow their collective audience.
Season to date, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC’s combined rating among adults 18-49 is up very slightly over last year.
If the networks can hold onto those gains through May, it would mark the first time since the 1999-2000 season that their ratings have grown year to year.
Eleven weeks into the season the Big Four together are averaging a 12.1 rating, according to Nielsen, up 2 percent over an 11.9 at this point last year.
The bulk of those gains have come from Fox, which is tied for first place with CBS this fall with a 3.4 rating, 13 percent better than the same point last year.
CBS is also up 3 percent. ABC is even to last year with a 2.8, good for third place.
NBC is the only network to see ratings declines, and even with all its woes, it’s only down 7 percent, from a 2.8 to a 2.6.
Of course there are still five more months in this season, and there’s no guarantee the networks will be able to hold their current ratings.
NBC will drop come February, once “Sunday Night Football” goes off the air, but those losses could be offset somewhat by Fox, which usually surges once “American Idol” returns in January.
ABC and CBS have been steady all fall, and both have at least one highly anticipated drama slated for midseason, though buzz doesn’t always translate into ratings.
The last time Big Four ratings rose for the season, there was an obvious reason: The huge success of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” the smash hit that lifted ABC by 8 percent over the previous season.
This year it’s no one show that has pushed up ratings, though CBS’s “2 Broke Girls,” Fox’s “New Girl” and ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” are doing better than any of last year’s new shows.
Instead it’s strong ratings from the World Series and favorable comparisons to a weak fall 2010 that have led to the gains.
In broadcast ratings for the week ended Dec. 4:
Among adults 18-49, Fox was first for the week with a 3.0 average rating and an 8 share, followed by NBC at 2.3/6, CBS at 2.2/6, ABC at 1.8/5, Univision at 1.4/4, Telemundo and CW at 0.6/2, ION and TeleFutura at 0.3/1 and Azteca and Estrella at 0.1/0.
Top five English-language Big Five shows (18-49s): Tie-1. Fox’s “The OT” and NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” 7.4; 3. CBS’s “Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show” 4.6; 4. NBC’s “Football Night in America” 4.1; Tie-5. CBS’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and Fox’s “The Simpsons” 4.0.
Top five English-language Big Five shows (total viewers): 1. Fox’s “The OT” 19.39 million; 2. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” 18.90 million; 3. CBS’s “NCIS” 13.37 million; 4. CBS’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” 12.64 million; 5. CBS’s “60 Minutes” 11.88 million.
Top five time-shifted English-language Big Five shows (18-49s, by Live+SD versus Live+7 playback, week ended Nov. 20): 1. ABC’s “Modern Family” 2.4 increase (up 42.9 percent); 2. Fox’s “House” 1.6 increase (up 64.0 percent); 3. CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory” 1.5 increase (up 28.3 percent); 4. CBS’s “Two and a Half Men” 1.5 increase (up 27.8 percent); 5. Fox’s “New Girl” 1.5 increase (up 42.9 percent).
Show on the rise: Fox’s “The X Factor,” Wednesday 8 p.m. The episode averaged a 3.7 among 18-49s, up 15 percent from the previous week’s edition (which aired on Tuesday due to Thanksgiving).
Show on the decline: ABC’s “You Deserve It,” Monday 9 p.m. The limited-run game show posted a 1.4 in 18-49s, down 18 percent from a 1.7 the previous week.