Troubled by historically weak prime-time deliveries, broadcast executives have begun making a case for adopting a more expansive ratings currency, one that would wring more favorable results from time-shifting viewers.
Speaking to analysts during last week’s third-quarter earnings call, CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves noted that the Tiffany Network’s fall ratings improved by 30 percent when seven days of DVR viewing was blended in with the live-plus-same-day data.
“As we move forward, we will make it a priority to get paid for all of the viewing that is going on across our shows, including DVR viewing beyond C3,” Moonves said, adding that the bonus credits “represent a significant opportunity for us that is still in the very early stages.”
A bit later in the call, Moonves allowed that while the majority of time-shifted viewing occurs within the first three days of the original air date, there was extra value to be squeezed out of the additional four days. He also said he thought a shift will be implemented “within a relatively short time.”
A day after Moonves made his remarks, Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Bob Iger said that the live-plus-seven-day lift “speaks for an expanded look from a Nielsen and advertising perspective.”
Iger called the uptick in DVR penetration “the story of the year,” adding that the increase in delayed viewing “clearly has shifted the rating in the direction of C3 and, hopefully, C7.”
Of course, Iger misspoke a bit when he suggested that C3 was the emerging currency. The combination of average commercial minutes plus three days of time-shifted viewing was adopted by the industry in 2007.
What lies at the heart of the sudden embrace of a hypothetical metric is the flaming zeppelin crash that is the 2012-13 broadcast season. Through the first seven weeks of the network schedule, only NBC has improved in overall reach and with adults 18-49, averaging 8.79 million total prime-time viewers (up 20 percent versus the same time a year ago) and a 3.2 in the demo (up 23 percent).
The other broadcasters, meanwhile, are taking it on the chin. Of the Big Four, Fox is experiencing the biggest ratings shortfall, dropping 29 percent in the demo to a last place 2.5 rating. CBS is down 18 percent to a 2.8, while ABC has slipped 7 percent with a 2.6 rating.
(CBS guarantees against deliveries of adults 25-54, and while a year-over-year comparison wasn’t immediately available, its losses are likely in line with its total viewership numbers. Per Nielsen, CBS thus far is averaging an industry-leading 11.7 million viewers, down 10 percent from just south of 13 million a year ago.)