The Big Game 2013

Moonves: C7 Switch Only a Matter of Time

CBS boss predicts a currency shift will take place by mid-2014

CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves


Weeks after expressing his support for a switch to a new ratings currency that would include seven days of time-shifted deliveries, Les Moonves is now predicting that the change will happen by mid-2014 at the latest. 

Speaking to investors at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York, the CBS Corp. CEO said that while it took some time to institute the C3 currency, “C7 is closer than that.” When asked for a rough estimate on when that might come to pass, Moonves was characteristically forthcoming. “I think we’ll have C7 within a year and a half,” he said. “I’m willing to bet a lot on that.”

A move to C7 would effectively add four extra days of DVR deliveries to the C3 currency that’s been in place since 2005. Nielsen defines C3 as live commercial viewing plus three days of DVR playback.

While there’s little question that a move to C7 would vastly enhance overall deliveries—on Nov. 15, CBS’ new drama Elementary jumped 57 percent in the adults 18-49 demo upon application of a week’s worth of DVR viewing, improving from a 2.3 live-plus-same-day rating to a 3.6—commercial viewing is unlikely to change. (On average, CBS loses a tenth of a ratings point when live-plus-same-day ratings are compared to C3, a reflection of commercial avoidance during playback. That viewers would elect to watch the ads four, five, six or seven days after the live airdate is a dubious hypothesis at best.)

Casting a wider net isn’t the only solution to broadcast’s recent ratings woes. The system against which some $60 billion in national sales are guaranteed must improve as well. “One of the things looking forward that we need to have happen is for Nielsen to get better,” Moonves said. “There are a lot of people watching our shows that are unreported.”

Moonves later acknowledged that Nielsen continues to work to merge linear TV ratings and streaming data. “I think Nielsen is trying really hard to get all the eyeballs in … and when that happens there’s going to be much more accuracy,” he said. “And that’ll be good for everybody.”

The C7 talk comes as broadcasters struggle with powerful cable rivals and the ravages of time-shifting technology. Through the first 10 weeks of the 2012-13 season, CBS is down 18 percent in the 18-49 demo, while Fox has gone from first to worst, plummeting 31 percent to a 2.4 rating.

While many would agree that this has been a particularly weak development cycle, the CBS chief said the quality of the shows on his network is not a factor in the fall ratings turbulence. “This year has certainly been a bit of an aberration, but it’s not a content issue,” Moonves said, noting that the election cycle and NFL Network’s beefed-up Thursday Night Football schedule have softened general-entertainment GRPs by as much as 10 percent.

Moonves said that despite the unsettled fall ratings picture, CBS ultimately would win out among total viewers and both the 18-49 and 25-54 demos. It already is the reach leader, averaging 11.7 million viewers in prime time, leading runner-up ABC by a margin of more than 2.5 million.

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