Commentary

Aggregating Small TV Ratings Can Build Unique Reach

Prime-time television programming is usually synonymous with big ratings and, because of the size of the audience, plenty of unique reach. Reruns of the same shows on cable networks offer a fraction of the broadcast prime audience and correspondingly limited reach potential.

An alternative perspective takes into account the hundreds of opportunities to view a show on cable that originally aired in broadcast prime. Over a typical week or quarter, audiences accumulate to deliver many times the viewership achieved by the same program airing each week in broadcast prime. Combined with a prime time broadcast buy, cable telecasts offer significant opportunities for incremental reach.

"The Big Bang Theory" is a great example.

The show airs in prime on CBS each Thursday evening. During the fourth quarter of 2013, the show had 13prime-time telecasts; the average W25-54 viewer saw four of the 13 telecasts.

During the same 14 week period, more than 300 telecasts of The Big Bang Theory aired on TBS in prime time, dispersed across most days of the week.

Despite each cable telecast delivering about one-sixth the audience of the average broadcast prime telecast, the more than 300 cable telecasts combine to deliver four times as many rating points as the show in broadcast prime. 

About 60% of the CBS prime-time audience viewed additional airings of "The Big Bang Theory" on TBS, a very large number of viewers. Beyond that audience, an addition 40% of the TBS audience is new to show, representing incremental reach.

These are big numbers, and they place a different perspective on prime-time programs re-airing on cable.

This pattern extends beyond "The Big Bang Theory" to shows like "Modern Family" and "NCIS" – some of the highest rated shows on television

"Modern Family" airs during prime time on Wednesdays on ABC. The show had 11 prime time telecasts during the fourth quarter of 2013; the average viewer saw about 3.5 telecasts. During the same quarter, the show aired on the USA network on approximately 450 different occasions, during prime time dispersed across Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Despite each cable telecast delivering about one-seventh the audience of the usual broadcast prime telecast, the 450 or so telecasts combined to deliver about five times as many rating points as the average broadcast prime showing.

About half of the ABC prime time W25-54 audience viewed additional airings of "Modern Family" on USA – again, a large number of viewers. Beyond that audience, about 60% of the USA audience is new to "Modern Family" and represents incremental reach for the show.

And finally, "NCIS."  The show airs during prime time on CBS each Tuesday evening. Over Q4 2013, "NCIS" had 12 prime time telecasts; the average viewer saw about four telecasts of the twelve. Over the same time period, viewers had about 350 opportunities to view the program on USA — Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays — dispersed across day and early fringe dayparts.

Despite each cable telecast delivering about one-tenth the audience of the usual broadcast prime time telecast, the 350 or so telecasts combined to deliver about three times as many rating points as the average broadcast prime showing.

About 40% of the CBS prime time W25-54 audience viewed additional airings of NCIS on USA – still, a large number of viewers. And beyond that audience, forty percent of the USA audience is new to NCIS, representing incremental reach for the show.

We have seen three cases that lend insight into reasons that television optimizers tend to suggest a mix of broadcast prime and large amounts of run-of-schedule cable. Despite the very low ratings per telecast within cable, highly dispersed schedules offer the opportunity to build unique reach — a fraction of a rating point at a time. And, as optimizers bear out, the benefits of a combined broadcast and cable schedule are magnified when considering cable cost efficiencies.

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6 comments about "Aggregating Small TV Ratings Can Build Unique Reach ".
  1. Ron Stitt from Fox Television Stations , March 28, 2014 at 12:55 p.m.
    And what does the frequency distribution look like when you saturate a show on a USA or TBS?
  2. Joseph Abruzzo from Havas Media , March 28, 2014 at 1:37 p.m.
    As Erwin Ephron taught me, dispersion is important if you want to build unduplicated reach. And concentrating too many GRPS in one place in not advised. I think this is an interesting analysis of the benefits of small ratings that can be dispersion across days and dayparts.
  3. Doug Garnett from Atomic Direct , March 28, 2014 at 4:53 p.m.
    We specialize in Direct Response Television where measuring response adds the ability to estimate that stations ability to reach consumers who can be led to act. And while we measure best those who will act by phone, experience shows that we can accumulate excellent traditional measurements by following the response. Quite often we're able to achieve a reach of 60%+ with frequency of 3-4 in 2 months. (Let's note that Erwin Ephron's recommendation was reach of 70% over a 3 month period. How do we do that? Exactly by accumulating lots of smaller airings on smaller networks --- at a far lower cost than network buys.
  4. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia , March 28, 2014 at 5:12 p.m.
    Great piece Joe. It's great to see the truth in Erwin Ephron's dispersion theory on media brought to life.
  5. Mark Mitchell from clypd , March 28, 2014 at 6:34 p.m.
    Illuminating, Mr. Abruzzo! Notable is the fact that basic age/gender targeting can be amplified through such dispersion. As the industry moves towards richer marketing-relevent descriptors, the application would seem to increase in importance.
  6. Timothy Daly from ITN networks , April 1, 2014 at 2:23 p.m.
    All for getting reach through dispersion - but this example seems frequency heavy. For network prime, we get a 10 reach and 4 frequency for 40 grps. For cable repeats we add 160 cable grps and get a 10 reach and a 16 frequency. When combined we get a 15 reach and 13.3 frequency for 200 grps. Yes, cable delivered 5 more reach points on top of the network schedule, but there must be a better way to add reach without wasting dollars on all of the unnecessary frequency.