Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Year Round TV Season & Redefining Ratings...

Okay, back to business as usual...

Couple of good articles from Media Post. First, TV Board's Jack Myers (via Media Village's Ed Martin) gives a preview of Fall TV shows making buzz, including: NBC's Chuck and Bionic Woman, CW's Reaper, ABC's Pushing Daisies, and CBS's Viva Laughlin.

But one thing he says that's interesting is this:

Coming off a summer with stand-out series on Lifetime, TNT, ESPN, Showtime, HBO, FX, and AMC, viewer expectations for the broadcast network fall season are high. But most critics have been especially cautious in forecasting new season successes. The competition for viewers is more intense than ever; last year, the five broadcast networks lost nearly 10% of their audiences compared to the prior year’s season. This year, unless the networks are able to launch several new hits, there will almost inevitably be further erosion.

A lot of the summer drama shows have been really swell: Mad Men, Burn Notice, Saving Grace, Damages, even John From Cincinnati had its moments and Californication shows promise. And a lot of major network shows won't be premiering until after Christmas.

So if you factor all that in, I think we can officially extend the TV 'season' to all year round, as opposed to just starting in the fall. And with cable and pay channels stepping up to the plate and delivering quality entertaining drama, the major networks will continue to lose viewers and wield a smaller bat. Not that the upfronts this year reflected that (advertisers paid and paid big), but as ratings grow smaller for what's generally defined as a hit, the 'hit' needs to be redefined.

Which dovetails nicely into this article by Wayne Friedman at TVWatch. I couldn't link so here it be:

TELEVISION BUSINESS writing has reached a new direction in terms of ratings -- true south. Imagine a lead paragraph in a TV trade talking about the highest ratings for a particular show -- and that those numbers are a Nielsen Media Research 0.6 household number.

That's right, less than a 1 rating. And, mind you, it's the highest ratings for the show. This is how Broadcasting & Cable described Oxygen's reality series, 'Tori and Dean: Inn Love', about the lives of actress Tori Spelling and her husband Dean McDermott and their adventures in opening up a bed-and-breakfast in southern California.

Of course, you can't blame Oxygen. Being a mid-size cable network in some 73 million homes, it can't, as yet, offer up big number of the more established cable networks. What the 0.6 number really shows is the direction viewership numbers will take in the future, especially when it comes to video that runs on super-niche digital platforms.

No doubt three or four years from now we'll be talking about the NBC-News Corp. Internet site and how its original online show, starring say Mary-Kate Olsen, earns a big-time 0.0006 rating among 18-49 viewers.

How do you spell success? Numbers don't lie, but maybe viewership numbers don't tell the whole story. There are other measures -- engagement and the like. Can we get used to those numbers when in the future, every marketer, it seems, will have its own individual measure of involvement and attentiveness in response to a video? With that in mind, the best way to look at video is advertising price. Say the Olsen show earns $90 cost per thousands among 18-49 viewers -- which would be about three times the rate on traditional TV right now. That's some pretty good press, right there.

Who cares if 1,145 viewers watched the hit Olsen comedy -- especially when the next show is getting 847 viewers? The question is how much advertisers paid
up for it. Given the increasingly importance of Sarbanes-Oxley financial accounting rules, networks should be obligated to reveal such pricing information.

Otherwise, you are dealing in viewership fractions -- within a fractionalized entertainment universe. That's too small for the naked eye. Better save your sight for those three-and-half-inch mobile phone diagonal video players screens.

Ratings too small for the naked eye? Yikes. Sounds like a lot of Canadian shows. But I guess what this writer is saying is that the numbers will matter less and less. That it's now more about the demographics the show is appealing to, how deeply its penetrating, and how much people might download/'pay' for it.

I can dig it. Especially in this sort of in between time where it's tricky to determine how popular a show really is and how many are really watching when you factor in the Internet and PVR's and the like.


I had a conversation with a Canuck producer today. He's working on a TV movie based on a series that ran up here for a few seasons (and was cancelled), and he described the origin series as one of the most popular on one of Canada's smaller cable networks.

I asked for the numbers. Cuz you know, I was curious.

He said the network didn't actually subscribe to a ratings service because "the numbers are so low that 'they don't even register' most of the time." I asked how they knew it was popular then. He said it was based on some selective surveys and the amount of cards, letters, and emails the network received lauding the series. I again asked how many. He said 'a lot' relation to the fan mail the network received for other original programming.

Am I just being a dick here, or does that seem like cheating? Sort of like creative accounting. Isn't a hit a hit anymore? Or is it okay today to be a hit as you choose to define a hit.

I know every show can't be everything to everybody all of the time, but has the definition of 'a hit' become so specific to the circumstances surrounding a show that the definition has lost its original meaning?

I think so.

And I think it's only going to get worse (or more creative, depending how you look at it). Is there a new word we can come up with to describe a successful show? I know it's all in the spin, but if ratings as we are familiar with continue to drop, it seems like there needs to be a whole lotta redefining going on.

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