TV numbers are not what they used to be. Ratings in the adults 18-49 demo that some years would make any new series a “Dead Show Walking” are now celebrated. Some of that is due to the proliferation of time-shifted viewing, as consumers increasingly gain control of when, where and how they want to watch their shows. As time-shifted numbers have gained greater importance, the increase in viewers up to a week after a show airs has become a key factor in which series get renewed.
Likewise, with all the time-shifting creating a very fragmented viewing pie, we’ve seen live event programming make a bit of a comeback. NBC raised eyebrows late last year when it put on a live version of The Sound of Music, but it ended up being such a resounding success that the network will do it again this year with Peter Pan. Fox has scheduled a live version of Grease as well and cable networks are looking for their own versions of Discovery’s Nik Wallenda high-wire ratings explosion from 2013.
The takeaway is that except for a handful of primetime series, live programming (especially sports) remains the last bastion of appointment viewing that can bring in huge audiences.
So as we reached the midway point of 2014, B&C—with custom Nielsen ratings analysis provided by NewBay Media sibling Ratings Intelligence—took a deep dive into the numbers through the Jan. 1- June 30 stats. Some key findings (and detailed charts) follow.
TREND 1: Time Shifting Is No Laughing Matter
BIG-PICTURE STAT: Of the top 20 biggest gainers after seven days, 16 are dramas.
For years, the broadcast networks have clamored for media buyers to make their ad deals based on viewership after seven days. While there remains an argument over just how many more ads are being viewed on a delayed basis, the networks can certainly claim that more eyeballs are watching their shows after seven days.
Reflecting the trend that has permeated the industry, except for a few high- profile comedies in The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, the biggest time-shifted gainers among young adults are almost all dramas. Aside from the aforementioned sitcoms, only How I Met Your Mother and New Girl were among the 20 biggest gainers after seven days.
This is also a category that broadcast can still dominate, however, as only four of the top 20 time-shifted shows were from cable networks—though two of those were among the top four. Among the broadcast nets, CBS and ABC tied for the most among the top 20 with six apiece.
Fox, which was one of the first broadcast networks to market to delayed viewership, counts only three shows among the top 20, though two of those—Sleepy Hollow and The Following—received the most delayedviewing promotion from Fox. NBC’s freshman breakout The Blacklist was also its only show among the top 20.
For cable series, it should come as no surprise that AMC’s The Walking Dead is also a delayed-viewing behemoth. The top gainer after seven days—adding almost 7 million young viewers—towers over the next-best show, The Big Bang Theory, by more than 1 million 18-49 viewers. HBO’s Game of Thrones, which passed The Sopranos as the pay cabler’s top show, added close to 4 million young viewers per episode.
While the networks rightfully tout their viewing increases after three and seven days, some shows make significant gains on the night a show airs.
Live-plus-same-day remains a popular term networks use to tout their first-run viewership, but that number encompasses those that viewed a program within the airtime and those who watched on the same night but on a delayed basis.
For example, The Walking Dead adds more than 3 million young adult viewers to its “true” live viewership when same-day numbers are included.
TREND 2: Time Shift Makes Super Bowl Even More Super
BIG PICTURE STAT: A live-plussame- day bump gave the big game a 10% gain.
The lift a network gets when you move from live to liveplus- same-day measurement also applies to television’s biggest annual event, the Super Bowl. Last February’s game went from 101.89 million total viewers who were counted in the live window to the record 112.2 million live-plussame- day number that Fox touted, a 10% gain.
Speaking of the Super Bowl, industry watchers were a bit stunned when Fox scored a record audience, considering the 43-8 final score was one of the biggest blowouts in Super Bowl history.
Apparently, viewers still wanted to watch those commercials.
With the New York (well, New Jersey) setting being a viewership attraction in its own right due to it being the first Super Bowl to be held outside in the cold weather—though temperatures were in the 40s—Fox was able to grab a record audience for kickoff. And the audience numbers seemed to climb all the way through the halftime show, even as the Seattle Seahawks ran out to a commanding 22-0 lead.
Predictably, viewership did drop off in the second half, even as the Denver Broncos finally got on the scoreboard in the third quarter, though it wasn’t until 9:30 p.m. ET that viewership dipped below 100 million. Overall, from 7-9:30 p.m. ET, viewership was above that threshold.
TREND 3: Peacock Could Still Strut Its Stuff
BIG PICTURE STAT: First-half numbers still give NBC a 2.3 demo number—and the crown.
NBC made headlines in May when the network capped off its climb out of the ratings basement with its first TV season win among the all-important adults 18-49 demo in 10 years.
But what if the broadcast networks tallied ratings wins like the cable and news networks do: by calendar year? The good news for NBC: They would still be in the drivers’ seat.
Broadcast networks still go by the September-to-May traditional season calendar, even though with the advent of year-round programming, some have argued that time frame is outdated. However, using the first half of 2014 as a guide, the rankings would not be that much different than the 2013-14 season results.
NBC still placed first among the adults 18-49 demo with a 2.3 average rating, and CBS would still be leading with total viewers. In fact, the total viewership rankings would be unchanged, with NBC, ABC and Fox all behind in that order.
In the demo, however, Fox would fall from second to fourth, with ABC and CBS splitting up second place.
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