Competitors Sweep UPN To The Bottom

By Caillan
May 26, 2003 - 10:15 AM

UPN has finished the 2002-2003 ratings season as the least-watched terrestrial network in the United States.

The Enterprise network scored an average viewership of 3.52 million this season, placing it last among the big six networks, Zap2it reported. This represents a loss of just under 800,000 viewers from the 2001-2002 ratings period, when UPN had an average audience of 4.29 million.

UPN attracted approximately half a million fewer viewers than its principal rival, the WB, this year. While many UPN series, including Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Enterprise, suffered from declining audiences, the WB soared, gaining 9 percent more viewers compared to last season, which Zap2it noted was the biggest gain of any network.

In the key adults 18-49 demographic, UPN was also bottom of the heap, scoring an average of 1.5 million viewers, compared to the WB's 1.8 million. Both networks were left for dead by the big four networks, especially Fox, their nearest rival in total viewers, which had one of its best years ever, thanks to reality series Joe Millionaire and American Idol.

These figures are in stark contrast to the 2001-2002 season, when Enterprise's freshman year and the acquisition of Buffy helped buoy UPN to a five-year high in adults 18-49, with an average of 1.9 million viewers in that demographic. Last year, UPN also bested the WB, which aims to attract the same youth demographic, in nearly all ratings categories.

UPN suffered big losses during the recent May sweeps, one of the key ratings periods throughout the year which determine advertising sales. The Enterprise network was last in all four ratings categories for sweeps: down 15 percent in households, 17 percent in total viewers and adults 18-49, and 11 percent in adults 18-34. According to Mediaweek's ratings analyst, Marc Berman, "decline — and plenty of it — was the operative observation" for UPN.

Despite the bleak ratings outlook, UPN's could be off to a strong start to the upfront advertising season. Earlier this month, all broadcast networks unveiled their fall programming line-ups to buyers, in an attempt to pre-sell advertising time. Last season UPN had projected takings of $225 million, but is this year predicted to rake in between $250-60 million, according to Television Week's sources.

UPN's new emphasis on comedy may have enticed buyers to spend more this year. The network will add an extra night of comedy programming on Tuesdays to replace the departed Buffy and the short-lived Haunted, including a sitcom from film star Will Smith. UPN's Monday comedy lineup was one of the strong points of its schedule this season.

The network has often been criticised for its lack of cohesion, with an eclectic mix of African American-centric comedies such as The Parkers and One on One, genre offerings like Enterprise and Buffy, and wrestling. But entertainment president Dawn Ostroff is positive this sort of criticism is now behind the network. "We know our audience better than ever," she said.

Further information on UPN's ratings can be found at Mediaweek and Zap2it, while upfront analysis is available at Television Week.

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