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Networks Push for Ratings Shift at Press Tour #TCA14

Complete Coverage: TCA Summer 2014

Beverly Hills, Calif. — On Friday, FX released ratings for the premiere of The Strain. The news for the network was good — a 1.18 live-plus-same day Nielsen rating among adults 18-49 and 2.43 million total viewers. But FX waited to tout those numbers until it could also report a live-plus-three rating of 1.91 in the demo (up 64%) and 2.99 total viewers (up 58%). FX has said it will no longer discuss episode ratings before the L3 numbers are available.

“We didn’t want people to say that we did this to hide bad ratings,” FX Networks and FX Productions CEO John Landgraf told B&C Monday after his TCA executive session. “We chose a situation where the ratings were just indisputably good to [keep people from saying] we were withholding bad ratings from you.”

FX’s PR policy adjustment is just one part of a push by cable and broadcast networks to shift how ratings are interpreted — a push that found a platform at the TCA summer press tour, which closes Wednesday at the end of 16 days of presentations.

Among the ratings-related tour takeaways:

1. Live-plus-same day is so last season

Broadcast and cable networks would kindly appreciate it if you would treat live-plus-same day ratings as you would a solar eclipse — and not look directly at them.

“We believe that the only real relevance of live or live-plus-same day data is for sports, news and live events,” Julie Piepenkotter, executive VP of research for FX Networks, said at a panel Saturday where she was joined by research executives from CBS, Fox and Showtime.

Fox Networks Groups Chairman Peter Rice was unwilling to write live-plus-same off quite as strongly when he spoke to B&Cafter his executive session, as much as he might have liked to.

“I’d love to say no, the live rating doesn’t matter anymore,” Rice said. “I think the live rating is a small, diminishing piece of our viewing.” He added, “As its percentage of our viewing decreases its importance decreases.”

2. Nielsen doesn’t tell the whole story

FX, like most networks, might like to shift attention from live-plus-same day to L3, but doesn’t view the latter metric as the be-all and end-all.

“You’re not going to get a complete ratings pictures, maybe ever,” Landgraf said. “You’re going to get a more complete one after three weeks. You’re going to get an even more complete one after three months, because of so much non-linear viewing.”

Landgraf added that he hopes to begin receiving live-plus-35 ratings from Nielsen sometime in September or October, but that even those numbers won’t be all-encompassing, because of the lack of SVOD data.

CW president Mark Pedowitz, in his executive session Friday, offered a faint vote of confidence in Nielsen.

“Since it is the currency that we have to use, we have to put a level of faith that their methodology is correct.” Pedowitz said, adding, “I only wish that Nielsen had a bigger sample.”

3. The new world order is here — sort of.

“This is no longer, this behavior, about a bunch of 25 year olds who wear black and live in Williamsburg,” said Alan Wurtzel, president of research for NBCUniversal, in a data-driven session July 13.

Wurtzel’s point was that viewer behavior across demographics is changing. He talked about the rise of “consumer as curator,” with the use of portable devices inside and outside the home playing as big a part in that changing behavior as time-shifting and SVOD viewing.

But the networks are not yet ready to present themselves purely as Netflix-style on-demand services.

“I think people, in the rhythms of their own lives and how they consume entertainment, appreciate that it is parceled out,” Rice said, arguing that the staggered release of new episodes allows creators to respond to the audience when making creative decisions. “So I think there’s a great relationship between the creators and the audience that movies don’t have, that when you’re making something for a digital platform where you make the entire season you can’t have.”

Those digital platforms, meanwhile, still don’t have to deal with the problem of measurement that cable and broadcast networks are forced to wrestle with. Amazon Studios made its first TCA press tour presentation July 12. Asked during a panel for comedy Alpha House whether he knew how many people were watching the series, Amazon head of comedy Joe Lewis said, “We do know how many. I’m not going to tell you.”