Commentary

Measuring a Show's Success One Ad Dollar at a Time

This season the entertainment press will look at the big-time, big-rated Thursday night network TV race -- which begins in earnest tonight -- in the currency of the adults 18 to 49 rating. Considering new realities however, it should consider using the other legal tender.

Most of the entertainment press calculates a show's worth in only one form of currency for its reading public: 18 to 49 viewer numbers. But a more meaningful measure is in dollars. For instance, according to USA Today, in its preview story about the battle between NBC and CBS, some $2 billion in advertising revenue is spent on Thursdays alone. This comes mostly from high-paying movie studios that instantly increase advertising spending to stir moviegoers who may have apathy towards their films.

In reality, advertising revenues is the only measure that matters, and the press should go into finer detail here. Perhaps it could be a new daily and weekly metric -- not ratings, but actual advertising spending for each night of primetime during every week of the season.

Surely adults 18 to 49 ratings points don't really count -- or even make sense anymore. Not when advertisers defy logic by buying lower and lower-rated network primetime shows, spending more now for those shows they did two, five, or ten years ago.

Advertisers don't understand this crazy equation. Every year they groan to their media agencies. And those executives say: 'Hey. It's supply and demand. Maybe you ONLY want to buy cable television. You know, those really low, low rated shows.'

So make it simple. Viewers don't count. They only get more valuable as their numbers shrink and, for whatever reason, this is too complicated to understand.

So here's a proposed scorecard in a typical press account for this year:

"CBS won this past Monday night with $10 million in advertising to NBC's $3.5 million. CBS' "Everybody Loves Raymond" took $5.5 million for CBS, as the lead show of the evening. Fox comes in a distant third with $2 million. The WB trails at $1.3 million."

With business shows such as "The Apprentice" now all the rage, revenues not ratings are in vogue - the only honest measurement of a TV network.

Think of it. Viewers and industry executives will only watch TV shows that make the most money. Instead of thumbing TV Guides, they'll be working up spreadsheets.

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