September 28, 2020

DVRs Give More Shows a Lifeline

That process could change the calculations made as network executives gather in Los Angeles in the next few weeks where, surrounded by spreadsheets, flow charts and piles of research data, they will decide the fates of shows on the ratings bubble like “Lie to Me” and “The Chicago Code” on Fox, “Brothers and Sisters” and “V” on ABC, “$#*! My Dad Says” and “The Defenders” on CBS, and “Chuck” and “Law Order: LA” on NBC.

Currently, networks are paid by advertisers only for how many viewers watch the commercials in their shows over the first three days after a show is broadcast — a model known as “commercial plus three” (C3) ratings. But networks are monitoring how shows do over a full week after they are broadcast to gauge the depth of audience interest and loyalty. And, though they are not pressing the issue, they would eventually like to persuade advertisers to take more notice, as well.

“Absolutely it matters,” said David F. Poltrack, the chief research officer for CBS, about the “live plus seven days” ratings.

It certainly mattered for the Fox drama “Fringe,” which the network’s top programmer, Kevin Reilly, already renewed in late March for a fourth season.

Had he renewed the show based only on the ratings that arrive the morning after each “Fringe” episode, Mr. Reilly would have been considered borderline delusional.

For its broadcast on Friday nights, “Fringe” manages only about a 1.7 rating (about 2.24 million viewers) among the 18- to 49-year-olds that Fox pursues (because most of its advertisers seek to reach that group).

That number walks right up to the cancellation line. But the tally jumps to a 2.5 rating (about 3.3 million viewers) by the time a week’s worth of recorded playback is included, a number that qualifies as satisfactory for most current television dramas — and robust for any show on a Friday.

“More and more our obsession has to be how to engage and count viewers wherever they are,” Mr. Reilly said. “If that’s on a DVR, that counts too.”

“Fringe,” a cult science-fiction show, would seem to fit the profile for a program ripe for time-shifting. But the adult drama “Parenthood” on NBC also gets a big boost from seven days of additional viewing — probably enough to guarantee it a renewal as well.

The show receives just a 2 rating (about 2.64 million viewers) when it runs on Tuesday night, but that audience increases by about 41 percent to a 2.9 (about 3.82 million viewers) when its playback audience is included.

“You’d be foolish not to look at the DVR performance as a measure of the potential a program has,” said Alan Wurtzel, the president for research at NBC. “You have to recalibrate everything: what’s a hit; what’s a marginal show; what’s a failure.”

The networks and Nielsen do not release C3 data; it is considered confidential business information. But Mr. Wurtzel said the correlation between growth in ratings over seven days and improvement in ratings for the commercials over three days was close.

He said that commercials in “Parenthood” improved by 12 percent over three days. (Ratings for commercials are always lower than ratings for the program content.)

The C3 measure was a compromise between the networks, who want all audience over any period of time to be counted, and advertisers, who would prefer only the commercials that run the first day be counted. Mr. Wurtzel said the networks were not fighting the compromise by trying to get the seven-day delayed ratings included in the rates advertisers pay. But he said the networks still wanted to get as much audience measurement as Nielsen would provide.

“I would take information for 14 days if they would provide it,” he said, adding that the longer measures are important “so we can monitor engagement and audience behavior, even if we can’t monetize it.”

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