TCA: No Way to Measure A Hit

Complete Coverage: TCA Summer Press Tour 2013

As the major broadcasters and cable networks hyped their new shows during this year’s TCA Summer 2013 Press Tour at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif., CBS’s chief research officer David Poltrack’s presentation Monday at the confab raised a more fundamental question: In a world where more content is being delivered to more digital platforms than ever before, how do you even define a hit?

This is as it turns out almost as difficult as defining the star power of the Hollywood celebrities on parade at the TCA press tour.

Just last week, B&Ctook a close look at the whole multiplatform measurement mess, where Poltrack and many top industry researchers highlighted the enormous problems they face in trying to measure a show’s complete audience. Like star power, there is currently no acceptable single way to measure viewing across TV, DVR, VOD, online, tablet and mobile.

According to the transcript of Poltrack’s TCA presentation Monday, he reiterated this is important because many popular network shows get much of their audience after the live TV airing.

“Last fall, many of you were characterizing the 2012-2013 season as a season with no new hit programs,” Poltrack complained to the audience of TV writers. But when he added in all the other viewing, the audience for Elementary in its first season ranked #8 among new dramas since 2000 and its total audience grew to nearly 16 million.

The need for effective measurement of all platforms is particularly important because the newer digital platforms like social media are becoming an increasingly important way for viewers to discover shows and networks to promote them.

To overcome those problems, Poltrack predicts that the industry is moving away from standard ratings and demographic data towards more comprehensive multiplatform measurement systems known as “Big Data.”

These systems promise to aggregate billions of bits of information to track how users move through online, mobile and other digital media.

This too has its problems, beginning with the fact that “Big Data” sounds uncomfortably like “Big Media” or “Big Brother.”

Semantics aside, big data could change the way media is bought and sold.

Rather than buying broad age groups, say 18 to 49, which Poltrack contends is losing its relevance as a key metric, advertisers could buy “people who buy luxury cars” or “parents with kids under 2 years of age.”

If that happens, what constitutes a hit may become even more elusive.