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.