DVR Viewing Delays Clear Ratings Picture

NEW YORK The broadcast networks were in a holding pattern last week, as the hefty DVR

viewing of their premiere-week shows made it nearly impossible in the short term to determine actual viewership levels and the true success or failure of the new slates.

“Our own polling shows people were watching shows they recorded last Monday on Thursday, and that many were waiting for the weekend to watch all the shows they recorded,” said Dave Poltrack, evp, chief research officer for CBS, who added, “most recording is of 10 p.m. shows.”

That could be why, in part, there has been more cumulative viewership of shows at 9 p.m. than 10 p.m. Last Wednesday, for example, 41 million viewers cumulatively watched the Big Three networks—ABC, CBS and NBC—at 9, but that number dropped to 33 million at 10 p.m. On Thursday, 55 million watched the Big Three at 9 p.m. That fell to 38 million at 10. Steve Sternberg, executive vp of audience analysis at Magna Global USA, said at this point last season DVR penetration was at about 9 percent nationally, while today it is nearly 20 percent. “We have no idea yet how much DVR viewing is taking place with the premieres,” he said. “At this point I would guess that a 5 percent or even slightly more live or same day rating decline could be entirely due to increased DVR penetration in the Nielsen Media Research sample. So we really need to wait a few weeks, when Nielsen starts reporting the delayed viewing, before we get a better handle on this.”

Making the situation more complex is the fact that Nielsen (a sister company of Adweek) is not expected to release its live-plus-three-day-commercial-ratings data—the currency in which nearly all advertisers used to get their viewership guarantees—until Oct. 15.

Most returning shows last week premiered at significantly lower live-plus-same-day ratings than last year, with a few exceptions. NBC’s Heroes delivered a 6.5 rating among adults 18-49, up about 10 percent from its series debut last season. Showing significant adults 18-49 declines compared to their premieres last season were CBS drama CSI: Miami, down 21 percent to a 4.6; ABC’s Ugly Betty, down 24 percent (3.8); ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy down 21 percent (8.7); CBS’ Criminal Minds and CSI:NY, down 22 percent (3.5) and 26 percent (3.7), respectively; and NBC’s ER, down 40 percent (4.1).

Clearly, not all of those declines can be attributed to delayed viewing on DVRs. And while the viewership numbers are expected to be positively impacted somewhat by DVR viewing, the added viewers are not expected to change the rankings of the new and returning shows. Poltrack said CBS’ internal online panel of viewers showed, for example, that an equal number of viewers recorded both CSI and Grey’s Anatomy, which run head-to-head on Thursdays at 9. While it was a no-brainer for Fox to quickly cancel its new music reality show, Nashville, which averaged a paltry 0.9 adults 18-49 rating, the general field of new shows yielded enough promise last week to keep programming execs cautiously optimistic and off the cancellation button for now.

In a head-to-head battle at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, ABC’s Private Practice, the Grey’s Anatomy spin-off, and NBC’s Bionic Woman drew 14.5 million and 13.5 million live-plus-same-day viewers, respectively, making them the most successful frosh premieres.

NBC, which for the past few seasons has finished fourth in the ratings among the Big Four, got off to a credible start last week. In addition to a solid start by Bionic Woman, the network also got a surprise lift from its cop drama Life, which posted a 4.0 adults 18-49 rating to win its 10 p.m. Wednesday time period in the demo, ahead of CBS’ veteran crime drama CSI:NY (3.7) and ABC’s freshman drama Dirty Sexy Money (3.6). That said, Life finished third in total viewers with 9.9 million, compared to 12.7 million for CSI:NY and 10.4 million for Dirty Sexy Money. NBC’s new dramedy Chuck also performed solidly at 8 p.m. on Monday, pulling in a 3.6 adults 18-49 rating against ABC blockbuster Dancing With the Stars (5.8). Although Chuck’s 18-49 rating was about 18 percent lower than the premiere of Deal or No Deal in the same time period last year for NBC, Vince Manze, president of NBC program planning, scheduling and strategy, said the net’s goal on Monday is to have a better night of audience flow, which it hopes to do with Chuck leading into Heroes.

In the not-so-positive column, NBC’s new 10 p.m. Monday drama, Journeyman, produced a 3.5 18-49 rating, losing more than 40 percent of lead-in Heroes, and also lower than the 5.0 that last year’s time period occupant, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, delivered. CSI: Miami also premiered at a 4.6, 21 percent lower than last year. “Every show launched at or above our expectations,” argued NBC’s Manze. “Life was a pleasant surprise for us. It’s not easy to launch a new scripted show at 8, so we plan to be patient with Chuck. It grew its audience in the second half-hour and that’s a good sign, and the show drew a lot of harder-to-reach young men. That was our goal since we promoted it a lot during our Sunday Night Football telecasts.”

CBS’ new sitcom Big Bang Theory drew 1.4 million more viewers than returning lead-in How I Met Your Mother. And the net’s new drama Cane, on Tuesday at 10, drew 11.2 million viewers head-to-head against NBC vet Law & Order: SVU, which drew 12.1 million.

Fox’s new Monday 9 p.m. drama K-Ville took a big dip from its premiere two weeks ago, losing 2.8 million viewers (to 6.1 million from 8.9 million). But Fox execs still see it as a compatible lead-out from Prison Break and plan to be patient with the show. “We have modest goals for fourth quarter,” said Preston Beckman, evp for strategic program planning at Fox. “Our fate every season is determined from January and beyond, and we’ve saved a couple of pretty good new shows, New Amsterdam and Sarah Connor Chronicles, for mid-season.”

The CW, whose new shows got a ton of pre-season critical acclaim, was struggling. Gossip Girl, which received considerable Web buzz among younger demos, premiered on Sept. 19 with a disappointing 3.5 million viewers, and fell sharply against stiffer competition on Sept. 26, losing 30 percent of its viewers (to 2.4 million).

Overall, through the first four days of premiere week, according to Nielsen Media Research data, ABC was the leader among viewers, averaging 14.5 million viewers per night (up 11 percent), followed by CBS with 13.4 million (down 8 percent), NBC with 9.5 million (down 17 percent), Fox with 8.1 million (up 9 percent) and CW with 3.0 million (up 14 percent).

In the 18-49 demo, ABC also held the lead with a 4.6 (down 2 percent), followed by CBS with a 4.1 (down 11 percent), NBC with a 3.9 (down 7 percent), Fox with a 3.2 (up 10 percent), and CW with a 1.4 (up 17 percent).