Emergency Landing: DVR Data May Save ‘Pan Am’

Huge time-shifted ratings boost could bail out ABC drama

While a number of new drama series are facing imminent cancelation, newly released Nielsen data tracking time-shifted viewing may offer a new lease on life for shows on the bubble.

According to live-plus-seven-day ratings data for premiere week (Sept. 19-25), some underperforming newcomers are building an audience via the DVR. For example, ABC’s Pan Am added an entire ratings point when a week of time-shifted viewing was married to the preliminary live-plus-same-day numbers, growing from a 3.1 to a 4.1 rating among adults 18-49.

Pan Am in its first week added 2.71 million total viewers, improving from 11.1 million viewers in its premiere night to 13.8 million, upon application of the L7 data.

Although the L7 data for subsequent weeks is not available, if Pan Am’s DVR gains remain constant, it may be enough to win the series a stay of execution. Based on preliminary data, Episode 3 of the Christina Ricci drama averaged a 1.9 rating Sunday night; if time-shifting continues to lift the demo by 32 percent, Pan Am would be credited with a far more sustainable 2.5 rating.

Likewise, a 24 percent gain in total viewers would boost Pan Am’s Oct. 9 deliveries to approximately 7.96 million viewers.

Note that L7 data is useful for gaging absolute deliveries/general ratings trends but is not the established currency for media buyers. Network ad sales execs sell against C3 ratings—shorthand for the average commercial minutes in live programming plus three days of DVR playback. So while L7 can give programmers a better sense of a series’ overall reach, these numbers are not viable in the ad marketplace.

Another bubble show that got a nice lift from the DVR is CBS’ Person of Interest. In its Sept. 22 premiere, the J.J. Abrams thriller improved from a 3.1 rating to a 4.0, a gain of 29 percent. Total deliveries for Person of Interest grew 21 percent to 16.1 million viewers, making it the third most-watched new series of 2011-12. (The CBS comedy 2 Broke Girls beat all comers with 21.5 million viewers, while Unforgettable took second place with an adjusted delivery of 16.9 million.)

While ABC’s Revenge is holding its own in the Wednesday 10 p.m. time slot, the freshman drama is also enjoying a solid DVR bump. Once the L7 numbers were crunched, the series premiere grew 27 percent to a 4.3 18-49 rating and gained 2.38 million total viewers, growing from 10 million to 12.4 million.

Most of the shows that have shown the most improvement post-L7 are already blockbusters in their own right. Fox’s hit comedy New Girl was such a smash out of the gate that it was the first series of the season to be renewed. That said, the premiere of the Zooey Deschanel comedy soared 31 percent, notching a 6.3 rating (up from its original 4.8).

New Girl also added 2.81 million time-shifted viewers, bringing its premiere week delivery to 13.1 million.

Proving that the rich just get richer, ABC’s Modern Family and CBS’ Two and a Half Men were the biggest gainers in Week 1. Modern Family added 4.7 million DVR viewers, bringing its premiere week tally to 19.3 million, while the new-look Men added 4.09 million viewers to its already staggering total of 28.7 million. All told, Ashton Kutcher and company delivered 32.8 million viewers in their opening week.

While the insights afforded by L7 data and the ongoing increases in DVR usage should lead to a reconsideration of the value of preliminary ratings, the industry remains manic about overnights. Already, four new series have been laid to rest before anyone had a chance to parse the time-shifted data.

Sooner or later, DVR penetration will relegate the overnights to the dustbin of history. According to Nielsen, 42 percent of U.S. TV households use at least one DVR, up from 38 percent at this juncture a year ago. While adoption rates are slowing, most analysts now believe DVRs will find their way into half of all American homes by 2015.