CBS Blackout May Hurt Ratings Less, But Damage Exposure

CBS has been making the case that the blackout of its stations in some 3.2 million Time Warner Cable (TWC) homes isn’t having much, if any, impact on its national ratings. There’s a potential message there to TWC: our ad revenues aren’t being hurt much, so we’re more than willing to wait you out.

Probably no need to rehash, but CBS-owned stations are off TWC systems in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas, accounting for the 3.2 million homes with darkness. Stations are also dark in some other markets as CBS and TWC are at an impasse in negotiations involving retransmission fees, so the number presumably is a tad higher.



It appears CBS has indeed been holding up relatively well, at least from one snapshot. For the week ending Aug. 18, it tied for second among 18-to-49 year-olds on a national level by one measure, but won handily in total viewers, the network said.

Investors have to be reasonably content that the blackout may not have hurt ad dollars nationally with any real force (there may be injuries of significance in the individual markets). It makes sense, the 3.2 million homes accounts for only about 3% of TV homes in the country. A 3% drop in ratings isn’t likely to move the needle much.

Things could be worse for CBS on the ratings front, though. The network generally doesn’t perform as well in large markets such as New York and Los Angele. It racks up ratings in smaller markets and what’s known as C and D counties.  

There may be exceptions such as “Big Bang Theory” or “Big Brother” having big big-market interest, but “NCIS” wouldn’t be expected to entrance as many in Los Angeles as those living in La Crosse or Las Cruces.

Generally, though, if a carriage dispute had CBS affiliates off the air in the same number of homes as the current dispute, but in somewhat smaller markets, CBS’s national ratings would likely be down more. How much is hard to say? And, again, it probably wouldn’t be enough to move the needle, but there is a fortunate aspect for CBS nonetheless that New York and L.A. are involved rather than lots of C and D counties.

But it is a double-edged sword that makes the blackout particularly damaging for CBS as it is off the air in much of New York and L.A. These are the media and entertainment hubs, where buzz and publicity flow from. And, this is a time of year networks need loads of it as they are readying to launch new shows.

Certainly, media members most invested in covering TV living in TWC homes will pursue pilots of new shows to watch regardless of a blackout. But what about all those potential influencers a step removed from the immediate whirl who might be persuaded to explore a show based on a promo seen? Depending on the level of influencer, a loss there – especially if they love a show – could be a big one.

There’s another factor that makes darkness in New York and L.A. no fun for networks that probably wouldn’t be the case in the hinterlands. Nagging from talent and producers, who inhabit the cultural capitals. It’s one thing if they read, their show is unavailable – or promos for coming ones – in Syracuse or Shreveport. But when they can’t watch the stuff in their own homes, network executives might get phone calls with little soothing to offer.

TWC will begin handing out free antennas Friday to customers, so they can watch CBS stations that are dark. But it’s hard to envision Hollywood luminaries – or ones who perceive themselves as such – using them.











2 comments about "CBS Blackout May Hurt Ratings Less, But Damage Exposure".
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  1. Frank Nichols from Media360inc, August 22, 2013 at 6:01 p.m.

    A 3% drop in National Household coverage could result in much greater than a 3% drop in Ratings.

  2. David Hawthorne from HCI LearningWorks, August 23, 2013 at 1:36 a.m.

    What is more disconcerting is the withdrawal of Al Jazeera from TWC. This budding network is not only doing a brilliant job of making the other news channels look like weak versions of 'The View,' but generally showing up the entire American electronic journalism enterprise as a thinly disguised gauzy hall of mirror with each one mesmerized by the sales strategies of their networks execs. 'If you want 'news' you'll have to go elsewhere. We're busy talking amongst ourselves.' Why that is the sad dying whimpers of a once mighty 4th estate, real news is at Al Jazeera and other forward thinking journalistic enterprises. Some are pretty close to proving that journalism doesn't need broadcasting. The digital media fabric is so pervasive that it makes news on demand more compelling than "news blocks" at clock intervals that have more to do with how the workday was structured in the in the last two thirds of the last century. Not even the demography of ratings makes sense anymore. Gross audience segments like males 18 to 30, or females 30 and older, or even Zipcode breakouts, just don't mean all that much any more. News curation has already become the new 'journalism' and its better done by real journalists working for audiences they know and understand than it is by a set of ditzy talking heads with all the appeal of snarky office workers.

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