How Movies on TV Have Performed in Ratings During Coronavirus Shutdowns

With programming hard to come by, broadcast networks fill time by downsizing big-screen content

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Disney/Paramount/20th Century Fox/DreamWorks Animation

tony maglio ratings report banner “Moana” went pretty far for ABC, which was forced to make way (“make wayyy”) for Disney movies due to the coronavirus’ impact on television production. Standouts during this free-for-all have been the 2016 Auli’i Cravalho-Dwayne Johnson animated movie and this week’s “Up,” which also aired on ABC thanks to the Walt Disney corporate umbrella. Among adults 18-49, which is the most important demographic for companies that advertise on broadcast television, “Moana” and “Up” tied CBS’ May airing of “Forrest Gump” for first place in TV ratings among these telecasts of prior theatrical releases. Those three movies each generated a 0.7 “live” rating on their respective nights. That’s not bad for a several-hour time slot — especially these days. By virtue of placement on CBS, which has been the most-watched broadcast network for the past 13 September-to-May seasons, the 1994 Oscar winner “Forrest Gump” earned the most total viewers of any of these movies, with an average of 5.6 million. For comparison, “Moana” had 3.4 million viewers and “Up” drew 3.3 million. While 18-49 may not be the direct target market for animated films, it is the age range that generally includes the parents of those movies’ main demo. To the grandparents of those kids, it may not be at all unusual for major motion pictures to find a second life on broadcast television. The emergence of cable — especially premium channels like HBO and Showtime — first disrupted that pipeline, then VHS and DVD took it a step further. Nowadays, it is streaming and the on-demand availability of films in their second window that makes this (likely temporary) rival so rare. The below key-demo ratings are from Nielsen’s Live + Same Day data set. This study includes movies that have aired on broadcast television from March 16 through June 3. 1. (tie) “Moana” (ABC, May 20): 0.7 (tie) “Up” (ABC, June 3): 0.7 (tie) “Forrest Gump” (CBS, May 10): 0.7 4. (tie) “The Ten Commandments” (ABC, April 4): 0.6 (tie) “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” (CBS, May 3): 0.6 6. (tie) “Thor: The Dark World” (ABC, May 27): 0.5 (tie) “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (CBS, May 31): 0.5 8. (tie) “Mission: Impossible” (CBS, May 17): 0.4 (tie) “Titanic” (CBS, May 24): 0.4 (tie) “Trolls” (NBC, March 28): 0.4 11. (tie) “The Secret Life of Pets” (NBC, May 23): 0.3 (tie) “Despicable Me 2” (NBC, May 30): 0.3 Each of the above 12 movies began at 8 p.m., with the exceptions of “The Ten Commandments” and “Titanic” — both of which started at 7 p.m. ET due to three-hour-plus running times (with commercial breaks). It’s also worth pointing out that “The Ten Commandments” and each of the three Universal movies that aired on sister network NBC were scheduled for Saturday nights, which is the lowest-rated evening of the week. “Moana” made its television debut on May 20. “Up” is the most recent movie on our list — the 2009 movie was this Wednesday’s highest-rated telecast across all of broadcast television. Next week, ABC wraps its spring run of movies on Wednesday with the 2014 Disney animated hit “Big Hero 6.” No matter how that one performs, this scrambling strategy has been a heroic one for ABC.