Paul Lee, a top ABC executive, says the network is the most watched by the target demographic, “if you take sports out.” As the New York times reports, “this amounts to a footnote: “not counting sports.”
“Among the four big broadcasters, ABC has competed this fall with no help from the N.F.L. and virtually no help from sports programming at all.
“What does it mean for a network to try to survive on a largely sports-free diet? Mainly, it means building a lifeline to women. Television viewing is widely dominated by women — every broadcast network but Fox has a majority female audience, as do the vast majority of cable networks. The scale is unusually tipped at ABC, where much of its sports programming has moved to ESPN, which shares the same parent, the Walt Disney Company.
“About 62 percent of the ABC audience is female. (CBS is the next most female-skewed at 57 percent.) More strikingly, the top five most popular shows among women are on ABC, as well as seven of the 10 most popular. All of those shows have an audience that is more than 70 percent female. (No. 1 is “Grey’s Anatomy” with an audience just under 76 percent female.)
“Last season, ABC finished a clear first among women in the category it sells to advertisers, viewers from the ages of 18 to 49 — and dead last in that category when men were counted. Sports — mainly professional football — is the most significant factor in the difference, though a lineup of shows distinctly aimed toward women, including soaps like “Scandal,” “Nashville” and “Revenge,” plays a big part. Paul Lee, ABC’s top entertainment executive, has consistently said that ABC should be judged under a different standard — one that excludes sports. “More Americans in the 18-49 category are watching ABC than any other network,” Mr. Lee said, adding “if you take sports out.” He emphasized that in the most important category for finance in the television, a measure called C3 (which stands for commercials viewed within three days of broadcast), ABC has a small lead on NBC and CBS for the 18-49 group, a 2.1 rating to their 2.0 (again, minus sports). By the more standard calculation, ABC is tied this season with Fox in the 18-49 category, with a 2.5 rating, behind NBC’s 3.2 rating and CBS’s 2.7. Mr. Lee takes a measured approach in evaluating whether the absence of sports puts ABC at a disadvantage. He acknowledges that Walt Disney controls much of sports television in the nation through ESPN, including “Monday Night Football” and the big college bowl games. College football games on Saturday on ABC have provided some minor bounce.