Tough Times for November TV Sweeps

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The broadcast networks continue to push for ratings, this year with social media promotions -- CBS ran a "Tweet Week" to encourage people to tune in, in real time. There's a reason why Regis Philbin's last show and the American Music Awards were scheduled for Sweeps -- the networks still pull out all the stops.

But nothing speaks to the diminishing importance of 'Sweeps' than the fact that cable no longer holds back during this once intimidating month. They've been debuting new shows, like AMC's 'The Walking Dead' instead of waiting for periods in the summer and winter when broadcast air time sat relatively fallow. Why? They're no longer afraid to compete with broadcast-- the Walking Dead has been averaging well over six million viewers, while FX and USA both regularly hit the three to four million range. That's certainly comparable with some of the lower-rated broadcast shows this season.

So who won this month's sweeps? Of the broadcast networks CBS came out on top, but the real winners seem to be AMC, FX and USA, plus ESPN, with Monday Night Football.

The broadcasters aren't just facing challenges from cable-- they're facing advertising headwinds as well. The advertising market, which was strong through the third quarter, has weakened significantly in November. Last minute -- or "scatter" --- ad prices are down by mid-single digits. And as economic uncertainty continues, scatter pricing is expected to drop even further in the first half of 2012. We'll see whether things stabilize in time for the all-important 'Upfront' season when networks try to lock in sales for the coming year. If cable ratings are any indication, cable will continue to make gains on broadcast.

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