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Top 10 TV Audience and Research Myths and Misconceptions

In honor of David Letterman’s final month, here is my own top 10 list from the home office in Hoboken, N.J. (actually, I only have space here to list 5).

5. Millennials spend more time streaming than watching traditional TV.

This makes for a good headline, but has no basis in reality.

Millennials actually spend more than seven times as many hours per week watching traditional TV than watching video on the internet, multimedia devices and smartphones combined (compared to 12 times as much for Adults 25-54). As a group, they also DVR and fast-forward through commercials at a lower rate than older viewers.

4. C3 ratings account for DVR fast-forwarding through commercials.

Sorry. Not true.

C3 ratings for most networks are higher than the live program rating. Let’s think about this for a second. Half the country doesn’t even have a DVR, yet we are seeing higher ratings for three days of just commercial minute viewing than for live viewing of the actual programs. This is so ridiculous on its face, that the industry should be crying out WTF!

3. Median Age can tell you which networks attract more young viewers.

Audience skew has nothing to do with audience size.

Half the top-30 rated general entertainment cable networks among Adults 18-49 have median ages over 45. Their average Adults 18-49 rating is about the same as those with median ages under 45.

If you combined the Adult 18-49 impressions to all of the general entertainment cable networks with median ages between 35 and 45, they would add up to about the same as CBS’s Adult 18-49 audience (CBS’s average median age is approaching 60).

2. Online surveys.

I know, let’s ask people who will take the time to answer an online survey, better yet, those who spend enough time online that they want to be in an online panel, how much time they spend online. And then let’s assume they represent the country at large.

Because these types of surveys are so quick and relatively inexpensive, too many companies think that anyone can write the survey questions and analyze the results. These surveys are only valuable if you have the right people asking the right questions.

1. Pre-season buzz matters for new series.

There are several reasons why pre-season buzz has virtually no impact on whether or not a program becomes successful.

Despite the fact that much of its audience is older, the traditional press has always tended to focus on the younger and sexier programs. It’s always fascinating to see what shows newspapers and syndicated entertainment magazines focus on, almost oblivious as to whom their own viewers or readers are. CBS, often with the most successful new series, has traditionally received less pre-season buzz than other networks.

Comic-Con buzz is often heavily skewed toward sci-fi or super hero series, or shows with former sci-fi stars attached, and seldom have any affect on a show’s success potential.

People who are chatting about new shows on social media before they premiere generally have not seen the pilot, and are not necessarily going to be watching the shows (even if the chat is positive) — particularly if the new show is scheduled opposite one of their favorites. That’s different from people chatting about a show that’s already on the air that they have been watching. That actually can provide an indication of whether a show is poised to grow or decline.

Over the past 15 years, roughly 30% of the series with the most pre-season buzz became successful — slightly lower than the average new series success rate during the same period.

Sternberg has more then 30 years of television and video analysis experience, having held top research posts at Bozell, TN Media, Magna Global, and ION Media Networks. He also authors the TV industry blog, The Sternberg Report (