Live-Plus-Same-Day Ratings Are Down, but Not Out

Fox gives up on them, but rivals and buyers say they still have value

The Nov. 25 episode of Empire was watched by 9.2 million viewers and logged a 3.2 rating in adults 18-49, but there wasn't a peep from Fox about the live-plus-same-day ratings performance of its No. 1 show. That's because two days earlier Fox had become the first broadcast network to stop releasing overnight and live-plus-same-day ratings for its entertainment programming, except for live events. Instead, Fox waited until the live-plus-three numbers were available, which because of Thanksgiving wasn't until Dec. 2, to share those Empire numbers: 13.1 million total viewers and a 5.0 rating in 18-49.

In an email to Fox employees, Fox Television Group co-CEOs and co-chairmen Gary Newman and Dana Walden said that the live-plus-same-day rating "is no longer relevant," as it "does not reflect the way people are watching our series" nor "how we monetize our content," given that half of Fox's ad inventory is sold on C7. In July 2014, FX stopped reporting live-plus-same-day ratings, a practice subsequently adopted by several other cable networks, including AMC, USA and HBO.

But while Fox and other networks are trying to ignore live-plus-same-day ratings in a world where more and more viewers time-shift their programming, other networks and buyers maintain that the metric still has some value, especially for brands with time-sensitive messages and campaigns.

"It's valuable if you have a timely communication in your category that needs to advertise that day and date," said Jon Stimmel, evp, managing partner, integrated investment at UM. "Studios, retail, things like that, where people are trying to drive consumers to go to a certain experience or shopping opportunity for a specific time. Also, if you're looking to say or do something in a social sphere that is tied to a live television event."

And while advertisers buy most shows on C3 or C7 metrics, "sports is still bought with no delay, so you want to look at that," said Lyle Schwartz, managing partner at GroupM. The live-plus-same-day rating also can be important for advertisers on nonsports programming. "If you're looking for sponsorships for a program, you can look at the growth in live, live same day and live three to see how the program is trending," said Schwartz.

Buyers can also note which programs have larger increases in delayed viewing, and which have a stronger live audience "where you've got to see it today because everyone's talking about it tomorrow," said Schwartz, and adjust their buying plans accordingly.

Fox's broadcast competitors also still see a benefit to sharing live-plus-same-day ratings, in the appropriate context. "We believe that we can have our cake and eat it too by saying, 'Here's how we did last night,' but we're also saying, 'Down the road, we believe that this is what the rating is going to be close to,'" says Alan Wurtzel, NBCUniversal's president of research and media development, who includes live-plus-three, live-plus-seven and live-plus-seven-plus-digital projections along with live-plus-same-day data. "The reality is that once you have a few weeks of a show's performance under your belt, you can be very accurate in terms of predicting what the subsequent metrics are going to be."

Execs at other networks, none of whom indicated any plans to follow Fox's lead, privately attributed Fox's actions to that fact that the network is in fourth place in 18-49 and doesn't have the kind of programming—morning and nightly news, late-night shows—that relies more heavily on a live audience. And by refusing to report live-plus-same-day numbers, Fox loses the ability to spin those overnight numbers, which puts it at a disadvantage against its broadcast competitors.

While Fox might have jumped the gun with dropping live-plus-same-day ratings, "I think we all agree that the metric is becoming less significant, given that we know so much of viewing behavior now happens after the day of air and certainly down the long-tail," said Wurtzel. "That behavior is only going to increase, but I don't think it's something that we should completely dismiss yet."

This story first appeared in the Dec. 7 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.