Improved Ratings Power ‘Dr. Phil’ Renewals

As CBS Television Distribution is negotiating renewals for the No. 1 syndicated talker, it's finding stations are eager to lock in the show that’s enjoying a renaissance among viewers. CBS expects to wrap up the renewals — three-year deals through 2016-17 — by the time the NATPE conference gets underway in Miami on Jan. 28.

Dr. Phil has firmly established itself as TVs top-rated syndicated talk show, which has made CBS Television Distribution’s ongoing renewal talks with broadcasters go far more smoothly than they did the last time around. The new deals are marked schedule upgrades and increased license fees.

“We were more than happy to renew Phil; its ratings have improved,” says Randa Minkarah, SVP at Fisher Broadcasting, which has slotted the show mostly at 3 p.m. “The advertisers like Phil, too. It’s a known quantity to them.”

CBS expects to wrap up the renewals, three-year deals through 2016-17, by the time the NATPE conference gets underway in Miami on Jan. 28.

This season, Dr. Phil is averaging a 3.0 household rating, a 15% advantage over Disney-ABC’s No. 2-ranked Live with Kelly and Michael (2.6), based on live-plus-same-day household ratings through Dec. 23. And its lead is 20% over Warner Bros.’ Ellen (2.5).

Among women 25-54, Dr. Phil is No. 1 with a 1.7, up 6% from this time last year. Ellen is No. 2 with a 1.6. Live and NBCUniversal’s Maury are tied at No. 3 with a 1.5 rating.

Add in seven days of DVR viewing and Dr. Phil’s rating improves to a 3.2, 23% higher than Live’s and Ellen’s 2.6 ratings.


Equally significant, CBS is securing upgrades to 4 p.m. news lead-in slots in some markets. Those time slots attract more viewers and ad dollars than 3 p.m. At 3 p.m., an average 34.5% of households use television while at 4 p.m. the HUT is 39%.

Joe DiSalvo, president of sales at CBS Television Distribution, points out that it is also a key time period for stations, too. “It’s the news lead­­-in.”

Among those giving Phil the coveted daytime slot are the Dispatch Broadcast Group’s stations in Indianapolis (WTHR) and Columbus, Ohio (WBNS).

“It did a 6 rating its first day in its time period [on WBNS] against Ellen’s 3.7 and the court shows did a 2,” says Michael Fiorile, vice chairman and CEO of Dispatch. “We’re pretty high on the show right now.”

Stations that are renewing Dr. Phil are paying for the show’s improved performance. License fees are up as much 20% over Dr. Phil’s 2009 deals, according to people familiar with those deals. CBS does not comment on license fees.

In 2009, Dr. Phil was in trouble. The show’s rating had slumped to a 2.9 from a 3.4 in 2008. The show was experimenting with its content, most memorably with host Phil McGraw visiting Britney Spears when she was in the hospital suffering from mental health problems.

A few years before then, Dr. Phil split from Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions, which had been part of the show since it launched in 2002. Now, Dr. Phil is co-produced by CBS and McGraw’s Peteski Productions.

The country and the industry were also in the middle of the Great Recession. To re-up stations, CBS had to cut its license fees significantly.

Dr. Phil’s turnaround mostly comes down to its content.

“They’ve refocused the direction of the program,” says Fiorile. “He’s not doing the lower-common-denominator shows he was doing.”

Dr. Phil has been easing away from that content since shortly after its ratings began to slip.

“The show has refocused on what Dr. Phil does best, which is dealing with people who have issues that are relatable to people in the audience,” says Bill Carroll, vice president and director of programming at Katz Television. “Issues like relationships, marriage and addiction are relatable to the majority of TV viewers.”

CBS’ DiSalvo says Phil McGraw and longtime Executive Producer Carla Pennington have tweaked the show’s content so that it’s more suitable for news lead-in.

“What Phil has done is branch out,” he says. “When there are newsworthy topics and guests who would’ve gone to Oprah, they now go to Dr. Phil. He’s been getting some great bookings. But he has maintained his brand: tough talk in a place where people go because they know he will help them solve their problem.”

CBS’s renewals have also benefitted from the improving economy. With the boost for political and Olympics advertising, broadcasters are coming off a strong year.

Dr. Phil has also benefitted from the lackluster performances of some rivals, notably Disney-ABC’s rookie Katie. That show, which also primarily airs at 3 p.m., is averaging a 1.9 household rating.

Sony Pictures Television’s Dr. Oz, which is up for renewal in 2014, ranks No. 4 this season with a 2.4 rating.

Dr. Phil’s performance has been positive,” says Carroll. “Logically, that will make it much easier for it to get station renewals. I think it will do so in an expedited manner.”

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