Buyers talk life after Big Bang

While the loss of Canada's top TV show is significant, CTV can remain king of ratings, say TV buyers.
BBT Season 10 episode 7

The Big Bang Theory has been a ratings juggernaut for CTV. But where will the network be come May 2019, when the longest-running multi-camera show in history fades to black?

A scan of weekly Numeris numbers over the past few years shows that if there was a new Big Bang episode airing, Canadians tuned in in droves. Its season finale this May earned 3.93 million viewers, and it kept an audience above 3 million for most weeks in its fall season (fading from the top spot only when the Oscars, Olympics or a hiatus week kept it off the air). The CBS show anchored CTV’s primetime lineup and had done so for the decade it reigned as America’s most-watched program.

Despite the gravitational pull the show exerted on audiences, Canada’s media buyers don’t think its absence will pose a huge problem for CTV. Those who spoke with MiC agreed that the network had laid a solid groundwork in recent years to prepare for the show’s end (Bell Media did not respond to requests for comment by press time).

Mark Evans, investment director at Starcom in Toronto, said the strength of CTV’s lineup should keep it atop the ratings after May.

“CTV saw this coming,” said Evans. “They starting prepping Young Sheldon, and The Good Doctor is doing pretty well.”

Evans said he has seen CTV slowly ceding its dominant ratings share to Global and City over the last season or two, noting “they used to have 16 or 17 of the top 20 shows, and now they might have 12 or 13, depending on the demo.” Despite the slip “there’s no denying the quality of its lineup,” he added.

Most weekly national ratings battles during Big Bang‘s 2017-18 season were between CTV properties (i.e. Big Bang, its spin-off Young Sheldon and The Good Doctor) and Global’s powerhouses like Survivor, Bull and NCIS (depending on the time of year). But in individual markets like Montreal and Calgary, CTV was dominating with even more legacy properties, such as Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order and the ill-fated Roseanne.

Lindsey Talbot, managing director, trading and activation at Wavemaker, agreed with Evan’s assessment, saying CTV has the strongest properties for the fall and spring seasons. “Losing such a great revenue generator is going to hurt,” adding that the network is likely also still smarting from the sudden loss of Roseanne back in May. “But they’re a strong network,” Talbot said. “They weren’t relying solely on Big Bang.”

After May 2019, Evans said advertisers trying to buy an audience the size of Big Bang‘s likely won’t be able to do so with a single program. At least not for a while. “Those audience numbers will be there, but… you’ll have to buy one spot in Young Sheldon and maybe one in ET Canada to make up the difference in volume.”

And, Evans said, advertisers should remember that TV viewership overall has been slowly declining as digital options proliferate. Relying on a single program for a gangbuster audience will be an increasingly tough proposition.

However, Talbot said that for the money CTV was spending on Big Bang, it could possibly buy two or three newer shows that make up any audience shortfall.

As for predicting what will top the charts next, Wavemaker’s Talbot said the answer is already on the Numeris rankings. New shows don’t typically debut at number one, she said, so looking at the current heavy hitters provides clues to the future.

“They launched the spin-off Young Sheldon [last fall], and while it hasn’t done as well as Big Bang, it has certainly performed. They were obviously planning for [Big Bang's end],” Talbot said.

She might be right. When The Big Bang Theory charted that audience of 3.03 million for its season finale, Young Sheldon was where it usually was: in the #2 spot on Numeris, charting an audience of 2.63 million.