C7 Ratings to Free Up Hundreds of Millions in Hidden Revenue

Even incremental lifts will lead to a windfall

While the broadcast networks are pressuring agencies and clients to start writing more deals against a C7 ratings currency, at first blush, it would appear that there’s little cause to rush into a paradigm shift. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Based on a close examination of each broadcast series’ C3 and C7 deliveries, there would appear to be very little to gain from adding the extra four days of playback to the data stream. For the period spanning Sept. 23, 2012 through March 30, 2013, the vast majority of network shows have demonstrated no lift whatsoever upon conversion from the C3 currency to the more inclusive C7 metric.

In the rare cases where the bonus playback numbers have helped goose the demo deliveries, the net gain is seemingly trivial. Of the dozen or so series that did see a boost upon conversion from C3 to C7, most inch up a mere one-tenth of a ratings point. A handful of shows gained two-tenths of a point, including ABC’s Modern Family (3.2 to 3.4) and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2.2 to 2.4), CBS’ The Big Bang Theory (4.6 to 4.8), Fox’s The Following (2.2 to 2.4) and NBC’s The Blacklist (3.1 to 3.3).

The single biggest gainer, Fox’s freshman series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, improved three-tenths of a point, from a 2.1 in C3 to a 2.4 C7 rating.

All that having been said, on a percentile basis, these conversions represent a veritable mother lode of incremental revenue. Assuming your network books $3 billion in annual ad sales revenue, even as little as a 4 percent lift would translate into leaving $120 million on the table.

“That’s real money,” said one ad sales boss. “In the greater scheme of things, 4 percent seems like a trifle. But say your C7 conversion gives you a lift of 4 percent across the board. That’s an awful lot of money to leave lying around just because you’re still working with a compromised metric.”

As the networks press forward with an initiative designed to wean viewers off the commercial-zapping DVR in favor of VOD platforms that don’t allow for ad avoidance, the prevailing notion is that the C7 numbers will rise accordingly. This in turn should lead to an increase in actionable demo deliveries. “If 4 percent becomes 10 percent in three years, now you’re looking at serious cash—enough to fund three pilot seasons,” the ad sales executive said.

Interestingly enough, not a single show declined upon addition of the four bonus playback days. That is not at all the case upon converting live-plus-same-day data to C3. (While the average lift from L+SD to C3 is one-tenth of a ratings point, a handful of shows decline as much as three-tenths of a point.)

It’s also worth noting that one-off specials and episodes that aired outside of their customary time slots showed bigger-than-usual gains. For example, ABC’s Halloween special, Toy Story of Terror, delivered a 3.1 L+SD rating among adults 18-49 when it aired on Oct. 16. C3 data bumped the demo performance up 16 percent to a 3.6; with the extra four days of viewing, the 18-49 set improved 29 percent to a 4.0. (In shifting from C3 to C7, the special improved 11 percent, a number about which it’s well worth kicking up a fuss.)

Special installments of CBS’ Big Bang, CSI and Criminal Minds demonstrated similar gains, as did the one-hour season premiere of ABC’s Modern Family. From a 4.2 L+SD rating in the dollar demo, the episode grew to a 4.6 in C3 and a 4.9 in C7. (Net improvement: 17 percent.)

If nothing else, the Nielsen data would suggest that TiVo’s recent breakdown of the benefit of adopting the C7 currency may be somewhat inflated. For example, TiVo reported that Modern Family saw an 11 percent lift from C3 to C7, whereas the Nielsen numbers indicate a 6 percent improvement. And while TiVo’s second-by-second ratings analysis points to a 10 percent jump for CBS’ The Mentalist, Nielsen credits the show with a 5 percent gain.

If the C7 push thus far has been steered by the broadcasters (CBS and ABC have written guarantees against the future currency with automakers), some leading cable nets are expected to jump in the pool this summer. Moreover, CPMs for later views may be rolled back slightly in order to mollify clients with more time-sensitive media plans.