By: Tiffany Vogt
In response to my article “The Year Round Programming Debate: Do We Want Our Summer Shows in Winter?” one program executive provided the following rationale for why networks are doing so. He proffered that it was for “strategic business reasons” in order to attract and secure Fall ad sales and to achieve ratings goals that his network moved a number of summer programs onto the Fall broadcast slate. He also attempted to justify the move by citing that the shows that were moved were achieving “healthy” C3/L7 data numbers – which translates to ratings including 3-day DVR playback and 7-day DVR playback.
But, as TVbytheNumbers emphasized in their recent articles “Dear Fans of Low-Rated Shows: Ignore the Deceptive ‘Percentage Gain from DRV [change to DVR]’ Rankings,” DVR numbers are but a “Jedi Mind Trick” and “Network Jedi Mind Tricks: Live+7 Ratings and Your Favorite Show”, the C3/L7 ratings virtually amount to no ad revenue and are just reported for press purposes.
In fact, the same network executive (Ted Linhart, VP Research for USA Network) explained on Twitter, “Never look at C7, not used for anything, don’t feel comfortable releasing C3 – some clients don’t have it yet.” He went on to explain in response to TVbytheNumber’s articles, “Yes, that is true. But will say rewarding internally to see that many more people watched than we thought. Morale and pride.” In addition, he further clarified, “To be clear what we say is that the increase from Live+ Same Day to Live + 7 is meaningless to ad revenue.”
Translation: the DVR-play back ratings showing increased viewership essentially do not count. They are simply a way to measure that more people watched a show, but there is no MONEY that comes from that viewership. Thus, essentially viewers tuning in late are not financially supporting their shows.
When pressed further, Mr. Linhart provided as proof of his network’s satisfaction with one of their summer show’s performance for November and December the fact it gained 2 million viewers in the 18-49 year old demograph. This is what is key. Demograph ratings are equivalent to gold in Hollywood. However, if you are a viewer outside of the demograph – then you do not count. Your viewership is less desirable.
It is all about increased demographic ratings. Demographs sell at a higher rate and thus bring in higher ad dollars – more revenue from less viewers.
Incredible, but true. If you are in the magical 18-34 year old demograph, you are simply worth more to a network programmer.
But it begs the question: How do they know exactly who is watching? While a Nielsen subscriber may state they are in a specific age group, that may not necessarily be true. Who is verifying the ages of the Nielsen viewers? And who is verifying that the person turning the dial in the Nielsen household is the person registered? Perhaps there is someone else in the household who falls outside the registered age group who is watching the television? And what about those DVR-ratings? While Time Warner, Comcast, TiVo and other DVR-providers may be sharing viewership patterns, they do not necessarily collect data on the ages of their subscribers – and even if they did, it is still nearly impossible to verify that the information about a viewer’s age is accurate or that the subscribing viewer is in control of the television remote at all times. For after all, not every person with a television hooked-up to a DVR unit lives alone.
Thus, ratings data is not infallible. It is faulty at best. But it is this very data that draws in the ad revenue for which the network executives are dependent. So as long as the “reported” Nielsen or DVR-data falls within the coveted 18-34 year old demograph, they are getting more money. It does not matter whether the network lost viewers by moving a television show to a less desirable timeslot or more crowded time of the year – so long as they increased their 18-34 year old demograph. Then they are ecstatic.
But I say this is unfair to fans and the creators of the shows. A creator/writer or anyone who works on a TV show wants more viewers – not less. They want more people enjoying their blood, sweat and tears to create television magic; and fans do not want to be forced out of watching their shows because they are deemed too old. Did you shudder the minute you turned 35 because you realized that you were no longer the desired television demograph? Did you scream your frustration at aging because it made you commercially undesirable?
This is exactly what television executives have deemed us as. We’re too old to be in the desirable television audience. We don’t count and are not counted. We are worthless. Our viewership means little or nothing because we are not commercially desirable.
This is absurd.
Is it really worthwhile (financially feasible) for a television network to sacrifice 2 million viewers simply because there is a higher number of viewers in the coveted demograph?
In its 3rd season, BURN NOTICE had 7.6 million viewers as of August 26, 2009. When it returned in January 2010, it returned to only 5.4 million viewers, which slid to 4.3 million by the end of its winter run on March 3, 2010. A similar drop was seen when BURN NOTICE ended its summer run on August 26, 2010 with 6.29 million viewers to return to only 4.32 million as of November 11, 2010.
In its 5th season, PSYCH had 4.11 million as of August 18, 2010, but returned to only 2.79 million on November 10, 2010. Its ratings bumped up for its TWIN PEAKS homage episode on December 2, 2010 to 3.53 million, but then returned to 2.9 million for its season finale on December 22, 2010.
These ratings illustrate that nearly 2 million viewers were sacrificed for each show. If USA Network believes these numbers are still generating a profit margin for them, then they must be relying on demograph revenue. Any other show on television with such a huge loss of viewership would surely mean cancellation – regardless of the number of viewers in the coveted demographic range.
But this is the world television as we know it today. Live ratings are still king. Live + 3 day DVR numbers rarely reflected a significant number of viewers. It is only Live + 7 day DVR numbers that show a big jump – and that data is not worth a penny. Advertisers are not willing to pay money for late-stragglers.
So as you sit in front of your TV, think about it. Are you watching live? Are you financially supporting your show? Or are you one of the late-to-the-party viewers who watches typically 3 or more days after a particular show has aired?
The next time you wonder why your TV shows keep disappearing off the television landscape, you might want to think about WHEN you actually watch your shows. It does make a difference. In the meantime, do not be fooled by press data that claims significant increases in viewership with DVR ratings added in. That will not save a show. It is simply for boasting-rights.
And if you are outside of the 18-34 year old demograph, do not even worry about it — you do not count anyway.
Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to The TV Addict. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower). Tiffany also writes as a columnist for NiceGirlsTV, AirlockAlpha and InsideBlip.