Monday, November 04, 2013

Shocking TV ratings news

Now that Nielsen ratings are taking into account DVR and VOD use for 30+ days broadcasters are discovering an amazing thing. Some shows that fared poorly after airing in primetime more than doubled their ratings when multi-platforms were figured in. Think about that. These shows have twice the audience the networks originally thought. HOSTAGES on CBS originally thought they had 7.41 million viewers. Turns out they had 15.54 million. Oops. Kind of a big difference. MOM, THE CRAZY ONES, and BROOKLYN NINE-NINE also took big jumps.

It makes you wonder – how many shows have networks bailed on over the last few years that really had respectable followings or better? Did NBC cancel THE PLAYBOY CLUB too soon?

What does this new time shifting mean?

Overnight ratings are way less conclusive. Networks must wait weeks to really determine a show’s popularity. (Unless it’s IRONSIDE, which no amount of platforms would help.) The good news here is that shows might now be given more of a chance. They won’t be yanked off the air so quickly.

The ratings will better reflect what the public is watching.

Older audiences are starting to take more advantage of these multi-platforms. By the way, the industry term for these folks is “Late-adopters.” That’s a much more elegant term than “Worthless old crones.” WARNING TO NETWORKS: Once us Late-adopters figure out how to use the DVR it’s only a matter of time before we figure out how to use the fast forward feature. Goodbye commercials.

Viewing habits have changed drastically. Viewers no longer decide which of two shows they’ll watch? Now they decide which of two shows they’ll watch live?

This is especially good news for quality programs like THE GOOD WIFE who find themselves in horrible time slots. THE GOOD WIFE on Sunday night must constantly compete with the best of HBO, Showtime, or any other cable channel bringing out their big guns (like MAD MEN).

This is good news for advertisers as well. If viewers are watching ON DEMAND they can’t fast forward through the commercials. This may really confuse the Late-adopters. “Martha, call our grandson again!”

More people are watching network television than they thought.

More people are dumping expensive cable providers and watching their favorite shows on other computer platforms.  

The 10:00 hour shows really benefit. People no longer have to stay up late to catch these shows. In primetime, the 10:00 programs are time shifted the most.  This may not be your viewing pattern (it's not mine), but research has shown this to be true.

Instead of watching shows once a week, viewers will save up three or four and binge. Especially when there is a continuing storyline, it’s a lot easier to follow that way. Is it just me or do those “Previously on…” segments confuse you more than get you up to speed? There’s way more continuity when you can watch three episodes in a row. Even the Late-adopters can follow it.

Comedies will draw larger audiences. How many times do you watch things on your DVR, it’s getting late, but you’re not ready to turn in yet? You don’t want to start a whole hour but a half-hour comedy is just right. This does not apply to Late-adopters because they are all asleep in front of the TV by 7:00, having had dinner at 4:00.

Notice I said “comedies”, not “sitcoms?” Sitcoms will be in greater competition with programs like THE COLBERT REPORT and THE DAILY SHOW. You don’t just have to be funnier than TWO BROKE GIRLS; you have to be funnier than Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. Maybe, just maybe, that will lift the bar on situation comedies. Okay, a Late-adopter can dream.

As patterns continue in this direction (which they will), gone will be those day-after chats around the water cooler. Everybody will be watching television on their own individual schedules. I personally will miss that. Part of the greatness of television was that it created shared national experiences. Now spoiler alerts will have to be extended to one month.

Ultimately, I think these new ratings measurements are a good thing. But in the back of my mind, I can’t help thinking. If only they had this years ago. How many great shows that were cancelled would have had a reprieve? MY SO-CALLED LIFE, FREAKS AND GEEKS, FIREFLY, LONE STAR, BROOKLYN BRIDGE, SPORTS NIGHT, PUSHING DAISIES, PARTY DOWN, and (okay, indulge me) ALMOST PERFECT and BIG WAVE DAVE’S. I bet you have four or five of your favorites too.

It will be fascinating to see how the networks respond to this new data. Will they change the way they program? How much will time slots lose their importance? Will shows be selected more by how DVR-friendly they are? When shows are up against stiff competition will network promos be telling you to DVR a show rather than watch it? Will GOLDEN GIRLS reruns beat LAST MAN STANDING now that Late-adopters can tape Me-TV? All we can say for sure is that the answers, like the ratings today won’t be determined overnight.

51 comments:

Jason Roberts said...

I actually worked on the 1st episode of "Ironside". While everyone was nice, I couldn't agree more.

I'm on a new Fox series called "Gang Related". My favorite kind of TV job. We will finish filming the full twelve episode order before we air. No chance of cancelation and unemployment midway through.

I like everyone else Tivo all the shows I like to watch and catch up whenever time allows.

gottacook said...

One other platform (which may or may not be accounted for in ratings) is networks' own websites. My spouse had missed the last 40 minutes of last week's Good Wife and was able to catch up before last night's episode - on the best monitor we have (27" iMac) - at CBS' site, with no need to decide in advance whether to record it.

Charlie O'Brien said...

Ken, you're a late adopter here. Been doing it for a while. And now, going the other way - live over the air TV. I have to tell my wife to take it easy on the remote - she can't FF the commercials anymore. If it's on at 10pm now - too bad. I'll need to see it on the website later if at all. I ditched cable TV and the monthly bills!

Elf said...

The biggest change will be lots more product placement in shows and crawls and bugs at the bottom of the screen to compensate for all the people fast-forwarding through the commercials. If 100 million people are watching a show but nobody is seeing the ads then what good is it to the network? These days even if I want to watch a show live, let's say an hour drama, I'll record it on the DVR then start watching 15 minutes after it actually begins, so by the time I pass through all the commercials I'm done at the same time the show actually ends.

Scooter Schechtman said...

This goes back to my own teeth-grinder, the fashion of loading shows with bugs and pop-up promos. The whole screen is so choked with ads that I'll gladly switch to Me-TV's clean broadcast of F-Troop and gawd I hate F-Troop.

NakedCityfan said...

NakedCityfan
Ken, you really are getting old, if you call watching a 10-11PM program staying up late.
Though I am an old fart,(68) geez, 11PM is only late for farmers or others whose workday begins at dawn.

Gary said...

They should create a number for what is being recorded. I just binge watched five episodes of The Good Wife this weekend so episode one would not have been counted.

We just have over-the-air antenna so I record just about everything on the majors. Early in the season I watch my favorites and wait for cancellations before staring some of the new shows. If you knew what had been recorded, that might help in deciding whether to cancel a show.

Aaron Sheckley said...

I think the future of network TV is going to be even more annoying that the current model of commercials every 10 minutes. When networks seriously begin to consider these numbers, and when they grasp that people are DVRing these shows and skipping the commercials, TV programs are going to start looking like computer screens with no malware software; popup ads all over the place during the programs. It's bad enough now with all the screen crawls and in house promos played during the shows and during the credits; I can see a future where there are dog food commercials being played during the damn show. The Max Headroom show seems a little more prophetic with each passing year.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Your mention of FIREFLY reminded me that there was a bit of info in MUST KILL TV that I wanted to correct. You said FIREFLY fans would sacrifice a loved one to get another season; actually, we might have sacrificed loved ones to even get the first complete season.

We did get a feature sequel -- all I had to do was run over some pedestrians. (My deepest apologies to that field trip group from the elementary school.)

Kindle tells me that I'm 61% of the way through MUST KILL TV; all I can say to people is that if you like Ken's blog, I think you'll love this book. I hope later we can play casting director for the characters.

VincentS said...

This is great news. And you can throw DEADWOOD and ROME onto my what-if pile. And more good news, Ken: Water cooler talk has not stopped. It just comes with a qualification now - "Yo, are you caught up on GAME OF THRONES yet?" I know this for a fact because - unfortunately - I still have a straight job.

rockgolf said...

The biggest problem The Good Wife has with ratings is that the NFL football overrun drives viewers away like crazy. On the East Coast Good Wife could start on time, but may be anywhere from 5 to 55 minutes late. I'm not willing to sit around that long!

Great Big Radio Guy said...

First, it's gotta be made clear that Ken is usually up until 1am writing this blog. No farmer he.

I was always big on the shared experience of watching a show the same time as the rest of the time zone. That importance has completely left my repertoire.

We also binge watch on the fly. After we watch an episode of say, Justified, we turn to each other and say "Keep going?" until one of us finally falls out. So the shared experience is at least between the two of us.

JH said...

I wonder if Terriers or Last Resort could have been saved with this schematic

swedishfish said...

the biggest problem with The Good Wife is how it gets pushed back for Sunday Night Football. Last night I think it aired 9:45 - 10:45. I have my DVR set to record a full hour after it's supposed to be finished so it doesn't cut off midway. I've taken to watching that one live.

The other thing I've noticed is that sometimes shows don't improve with binge watching. I did a marathon of Modern Family last year and found some of the personality quirks repetitive and annoying - which probably wouldn't have happened if I'd spaced it out week to week.

Unknown said...

We're the perfect case in point of non appointment viewing and late adopters. Not out of the box on Justified; Mad Men; Downton Abbey, Breaking Bad, Person of Interest, The Good Wife or Homeland. Yet long since caught up with most all of them thru the wonders of On Demand, DVR, Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Roger Owen Green said...

I recorded The Good Wife for yesterday, but then watched On Demand this morning, because the damn football game ran long.

cshel said...

I almost never watch anything live, and when I do, I'm usually channeling surfing all over the place. I DVR the shows I watch regularly, even if I'm going to watch them on a half hour delay, just to be able to fast-forward through the commercials.

It certainly makes one wonder what could have been, if Nielsen had jumped on the bandwagon sooner. It was so obvious that many shows are not watched live, I assumed these ratings were counted.

Keith said...

This just in: Video-On-Demand fans also happen to be HUGE Paula Marshall fans.

emily said...

I'm not sure which "Whiz-Kid" came up with the term “Late-adopters,” but one day, if he's lucky, he too will join the ranks of “Worthless old crones” and wonder, like the rest of us, why he doesn't get any respect.

Jim K said...

The only things I watch live these days is sports and news. Everything else is DVR'ed. Everything!
My wife and I have found that we can now keep up on every show we watch without missing an episode, or even a few minutes due to the phone, dinner, bathroom breaks, visitors, etc. We watch on our time, not necessarily prime time. And fast forwarding through commercials sure does save tons of time. Sitcoms = 20 or so minutes, Dramas = 40 or so.

DVRing also enables us to start watching every promising show at the beginning of a season, watch 3 episodes and then weed out the duds. I've always disliked not jumping on a program's bandwagon, hearing it's the latest greatest thing and then having to catch up in On Demand or DVDs next season.

I also realize this isn't much of a complaint. I love the wealth of great TV and the myriad ways of watching. In the old days, if you missed a show, you waited until rerun season. If you missed it then, it was tough luck unless the show was syndicated. And back in the old days, most shows fell by the wayside.

Brent said...

I was about to tell you I never watch live TV anymore except sports and news, but Jim beat me to it by a few minutes. He and I do it pretty much the same. I started watching on my time instead of the networks way back in VCR days, when my job schedule required I get up at 1:15 AM. I barely made it through the 6 O'Clock News, let alone prime-time TV. I record what I want, and watch it the next afternoon. Or the afternoon after that. Or the weekend. Whenever.

I watched the Ironside sneak preview ONDemand a month before it "premiered" on NBC, and was convinced it would be the first cancellation of the season. When the least like-able character is the star of the show, you have a problem.

RyderDA said...

I've almost given up watching series live or on the PVR. If I like it after a few episodes, I stop watching, then wait until the end of the year and buy the DVD set. My schedule is such that my TiVo fills up (we poor Canadians can only get an little tiny Seies 2 TiVo with 80 MB of storage space) before I can watch stuff, so I end up missing the show even in a 30 day window. Easier to just buy the darned series.

And I LOVE Sports Night.

Jason said...

"You don’t want to start a whole hour but a half-hour comedy is just right."

We usually watch The Soup in that slot. Sometimes Mindy.

And I personally would watch NEITHER show live. Or, if live, start it 10 minutes late so I can skip the commercials.

Mark said...

Over the years of reading you, Ken, I have learned that you and I are not exactly twins philosophically and in background; however, I can't agree more with your shout-out to 3 of my brilliant-but-cancelled faves -- Freaks & Geeks, Sports Night, and Brooklyn Bridge. Entertainment was poorer for their loss.

Nat Gerter (sitcom room veteran) said...

With My-So Called Life, they knew pretty darned fast that they had made a mistake axing it, because the "delayed viewing" was in the form of all the teens discovering it on MTV when MTV had gotten a license so cheap that they could fill their hours with it. But alas, they had already let Claire Danes go...

Jake said...

When I get up to milk the cows I notice that the damn VCR is still flashing 00..00..00. What's that mean?

Bryan L said...

Live TV is a rarity for me, and honestly has been since I got my first VCR and realized I could compress an hour of TV into 45 minutes or a half-hour into 20. I've been time-shifting ever since (heck, I remember running two VCRs in different rooms for different programs).

It's nice that Nielsen is figuring this out some 20 years later, but I do get worried about the future of commercials. I don't like being stuck watching all of them (though I DO voluntarily watch the ones I find interesting), but I recognize they are a necessary part of the whole.

Bob Summers said...

1. I no longer watch anything I plan to watch when it's live. I find the amount and quality of the commercials to sit through to be annoying. However, I do keep watching the commercials as I FF through them and notice what they are for. It also helps me to spend time with my family and we can burn off and watch other stuff we recorded.

2. There are a number of us who love to watch the old '80s commercials on YouTube or somewhere else. Even prior to YouTube, there were sites dedicated to them. The spots still work today, and I buy the product.

3. The thing I really miss from the three network/no DVR universe is the anticipation and watching something as a nation together. Think of Roots, etc.

2.

cadavra said...

How can ANYONE hate F TROOP???

The classic example is undoubtedly the original STAR TREK. Back in those days, Nielsen mainly concentrated on total viewers. When it exploded in reruns, Nielsen and Arbitron decided that breakdowns should take more precedence, and thus were "demographics" born. Alas, they've gone too far in the other direction, and now "The Demo" is everything, as HARRY'S LAW proved.

Another interesting case is THE BETTY WHITE SHOW (the post-MTM sitcom), which CBS quickly yanked after it got squashed by Monday Night Football. They later discovered that the viewership was almost entirely women, and had they hung on till February, it would likely have blossomed into a full-scale hit.

Sherri said...

I'm another who never watches shows live, except for sports. (I don't watch TV news at all.) Even if I'm going to watch a show the same night, I'll wait a half hour so I can fast-forward through the commercials. And after I made the mistake of watching Lone Star from the beginning, only to have Fox cancel it after two episodes, I usually wait before bothering with new series unless they really compelling or have so much buzz the network is unlikely to pull the plug immediately.

(I like James Wolk, and really don't understand why Fox gave up on Lone Star so quickly; it wasn't that bad, and needed time to develop.)

DBenson said...

I refuse to watch shows on my iPhone. I do pipe music into my head while out walking, but watching a tiny TV while out in the world carries pathetic to a whole new level.

Mike said...

The viewing habits you describe were established in the '80s with VCRs. Are you saying that the all-powerful ratings - the sword of Damocles - have given false numbers for thirty years? Now I understand what happened to the American car industry.

I don't believe any series is ever cancelled prematurely. My rule of thumb is that a programme's lifetime should be half what it is. For example: end MASH when Frank Burns left, end Cheers when Diane Chambers left, end Frasier when Daphne fled the altar with Niles. (Especially Star Trek. With all of time & space at their disposal, how could the writers run out of ideas after only one season?)

In the UK, it's common for imports to disappear after a season or two, even if they're successful. Cable channels outbid the networks. (We could only afford either Desperate Housewives or Lost.) In contrast, all the produced episodes of a cancelled import are shown, like shipping toxic waste to Africa. (The surprise ending to Lyon's Den...) Further to my comments on The Good Wife, only the first two seasons of Breaking Bad have aired here, on a back-of-beyond channel.

Tim W. said...

I would say I watch 90% of my television shows on our iPad, using the network apps (in Canada). So I actually end up watching MORE commercials than when I watch shows I've DVRed. And for most shows, I have no clue what night they are on. I just check once in a while, and if there's a new show I like, I watch it.

And I'm in the over-40 (barely) crowd.

Thinking about it, I watch NBA and a couple of recorded shows, on TV, most network shows on the iPad, and am currently watching Game of Thrones on DVD.

It's about time they looked at other numbers.

Tim W. said...

@ Jim K.

I can't stand watching sports live. WAAAYY too many commercials and jabbering on about nothing. The only sport I watch is basketball, but I always wait until the game is done before I start watching, and then I can usually cut an hour off my watching time.

Barbara C. said...

As a mom of five children, it is pretty much impossible for me to watch a show live and actually be able to follow what is going on. The first button wear out on my remote is the "pause" because it will inevitably take me an hour and a half to get through 40 minutes of content between breaking up fights and emergency diaper changers.

I also try to watch shows with inappropriate content for the kids when they're asleep on occupied in another room.

I suspect I'm not a lone in this and they weren't getting a good understanding of what the 30-45 parent demographic was watching either.

Barbara C. said...

Egads!! Did my brain seize up or is my keyboard going wonky or both? Sorry about the spelling/grammar issues in my last post.

Hank Gillette said...

Baseball is much more enjoyable when you start watching the game an hour after it starts and can zip through all the between inning commercials and the interminable pitching changes.

Loosehead said...

We have everything on series link, and recording two channels pretty much from 7 to 11 every day, we don't have time to watch live television. Saturday and Sunday are spent binge watching trying to free some space on the disk for the next week.

Barry Traylor said...

This might have helped two of my favorite short lived programs, Detroit 1-8-7 starring Michael Imperioli and Life with Damian Lewis. Both shows were quite engaging nothing at all alike in spite of both being police proceduals.

Melissa C. Banczak said...

Thank goodness for alternatives to watching tv live. I had skipped The Good Wife when it first aired. It looked like a soap and the title was stupid. (I wasn't really paying attention to the promos, because I had no idea it was about lawyers) Then I got sick and was couch bound for three weeks. After watching everything else I was interested in, I put on the pilot figuring I'd probably shut it off after ten minutes. Four days later I was sleep deprived trying to get to the fifth season premiere before it's on demand run ended on Nov 2. (the bastards lied, it was still listed on Nov 3) Thanks for talking about this show so much. And if you see the writers, tell them thank you for not going the easy angsty teen route with Alisha's kids. (The reason I stopped watching Homeland) And yes, I get the title now.

Gary S said...

"This is especially good news for quality programs like THE GOOD WIFE who find themselves in horrible time slots. THE GOOD WIFE on Sunday night must constantly compete with the best of HBO, Showtime, or any other cable channel bringing out their big guns (like MAD MEN). "

Not to mention the damn football (and golf) games on CBS Sports which always run long.

Julian said...

I had to check the date on this post to make sure it wasn't an old one.

DVRs were making a big splash in 2007. Time-shifting was a big deal in the '80s. Late adopters already have this - we are into laggard territory now.

(I'm not at all a typical case, but I haven't watched live TV or even used my DVR for the past 4 years.)

ScottyB said...

Even when all we had was network TV, I never quite understood how ratings (back then, just judged by Nielsen set-boxes and viewer "diaries") could be a reliable gauge of *anything*. Mostly, the numbers always just seemed to me to be what got pulled out of someone's algorithmic ass that basically ran on assumptions and fill-in-the-blanks deducement.

I still only have network TV, altho that isn't by absolute choice. I actually have to watch shows live, and since I work afternoon shift several days a week, I miss a lot of good programs, or have to wait until they show up in syndication. But that doesn't mean I don't actually *see* some of those shows from time to time in ways that they're now tracking with new criteria that's a more adequate reflection of what's *really* going on.

Way I see it, the *networks* are the ones who are the late adopters, not us middle-aged folk.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I don't think it would have saved SPORTS NIGHT because AIUI the limiting factor there was the availability of Aaron Sorkin, who thought THE WEST WING was likely going to be the bigger success.

Some other shows, though absolutely. And - and I'm sure the RIAA has figured this out but won't admit it - watching the torrent numbers provides a quick, early clue as to what's turning into a hit.

wg

Janet said...

I am outraged with the new trend of shows ending at 8:01 or 9:01. I consider it a big slap in the face. It totally screws you if you want to record 2 shows. I feel like the networks are saying "F you" to their viewers.

Anonymous said...

Mike, VCR usage would still have been noticed by Nielsen.

billnyc said...

I wonder if BETTER OFF TED would have done better when taking into account DVR and other platform ratings. That was a brilliant series.

Although funny, I didn't tune in when it aired because the title didn't resonate with me. Didn't get what the show was about and it sounded bland. Maybe if it stayed on a little longer I would have caught it but I never saw it until after it was cancelled and I tried it out on Netflix.

Interesting, got me thinking to how many shows would do better with just a name change or better promos.

McAlvie said...

It's amazing to me that The Good Wife continues to do so well considering how badly the network treats it. You never know from one week to the next exactly what time it will be on! Is it on after The Great Race to boost it's own ratings, or to bring up the ratings of TGR. How many people tune into that just so they won't miss the start of TGW?

Tom G. said...

I will never forgive HBO for canceling Carnivale. Never.

Anonymous said...

About a year ago I was randomly selected by Nielsen (by mail). They explained how they would phone me which isn't actually possible since I don't have a phone connected to the landline (only there for DSL).

Then they sent me a booklet to fill out with my viewing (and $5). I couldn't fill out the booklet and sent email to the address they directed which never got a response (they then apologised a month later for having no one answer their emails).

But I finally figured out why this doesn't work. They didn't care what shows I watched - they wanted to know which ads I watched live. If your answer is none then you aren't of any value to them.

I watch plenty of TV on Netflix, DVD, youtube, hulu etc. I just never watch broadcast TV ads. I kept their $5 and sent nothing back. I'll bet they didn't count people like me in any way. (I'm 44 if that matters.)

Mike said...

Thanks @Anonymous.