Commercial Ratings Up 2% For Broadcast Premieres

The 2013-14 broadcast season got off to a much better start than last season as far as advertisers were concerned.

Viewership of the commercials in prime time programming was up 2% on the broadcast networks during premiere week among adults 18 to 49, according to media buying sources, a big change from last year when a 14% decline in commercial ratings triggered a near-panic about the future of broadcast and set the course for a very tight scatter market for TV ads.

Nielsen today sent data on commercial ratings to its clients. The most important metric is C3, which is the one most advertising buys are based on. C3 measures the average audience of all the commercials appearing within a program during both live viewing and delayed viewing via digital video recorders and video-on-demand for three days after air.

NBC’s C3 ratings showed the biggest gains, up about 6% from last year’s premiere week. The gains were more impressive considering C3 ratings for Sunday Night Football were down from a year ago. NBC was helped by strong performances by The Voice and the new drama The Blacklist.

ABC also showed a 3% gain in C3 ratings for premiere week, CBS was down 2% and Fox was flat.

Many shows that had big buzz during premiere week registered big lift from their overnight ratings to their C3 ratings thanks to delayed viewing, including Fox’s Glee and Sleepy Hollow, ABC’s Agents of SHIELD, and NBC’s Michael J. Fox Show and The Blacklist.

Overall, the early C3 numbers were encouraging to media buyers.

“It’s a good story because we’re not seeing the drastic declines that lead to a lack of inventory last year,” says Neil Vendetti, senior VP, managing director, national video at Zenith. The declines put pressure on the broadcast network’s ad inventory, making it hard for advertisers to get make good ads.

Live viewing was down 3% during premiere week. Looking at commercial viewing through seven days of playback, ratings were up 3%. Vendetti said those figure indicated that “we’re not seeing a increase in commercial skipping. DVR penetration has leveled off and people viewing habits are not changing.

Vendetti noted that while media agencies bought programming across all screens, the C3 ratings reflect viewing on linear TV, VOD and DVRs, but not online viewing. Online inventory provides advertisers with another way to make up for viewer under-delivery.

The networks also saw the early numbers as positive. “We would consider this to be an excellent start,” said David Poltrack, head of research at CBS. For CBS, C3 ratings were flat among adults 25-54, a demo in which the network does a large share of its ad sales, he said.

Poltrack added that unlike the other networks, fast-forward was not disabled on VOD during the first two weeks of the season because of technical issues. Fast forward was disabled starting the third week of the season, which should eliminate the small decline in CBS’ rating among 18 to 49 year olds, he said.

“Right now, the C3s are running pretty parallel to live plus same day [overnight ratings]. In the second week, live plus same day ratings were also positive, so we think we’re in good shape,” he said. He also said he was seeing little change in the  relationship between live viewing plus seven days of DVR plus and C3.

Poltrack noted that while delayed viewing was up during both the one-to-three day period and the four-to-seven-day period, recording and playback behavior is atypical during premiere week, when people want to see their old favorite shows and also check out the new programs they’ve been hearing about. “Our panelists are telling us they still have shows that they plan on watching that they haven’t watched yet because they have too much on their DVRs,” he said. “We would expect things will settle in the next three or four weeks.”

Program ratings that include delayed playback show increasingly huge gains in viewership as DVRs increase penetration and consumers become more accustomed to watching shows on their own schedules. Commercial ratings don’t increase as much because commercials that are skipped or fast-forwarded through don’t count. Advertisers and media buyers pushed for commercial ratings so that they would be paying for people who actually saw the spots they were paying for.

Because they are more difficult to calculate, the C3 ratings usually come out about 21 days after the program ratings.

Nielsen does not release C3 ratings data and the networks rarely do, preferring to talk about how many people are watching their programming than how many sit through commercials. But the C3 number is the one that determines a networks revenue and also is the measuring stick used for audience guarantees with advertisers. No matter how many people see a show, if enough people don’t see the commercial in that show, the network is normally obligated to run make-good spots to cover the audience shortfall.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.