As the annual round of upfront events and presentations gets underway, here are a few things that matter, and some that don’t.
Live Viewing Matters
Among both adults 18-49 and 25-54, most prime-time series on broadcast and ad-supported cable have between 25% and 50% of their reported viewing played back via DVR. In DVR homes, it’s between 40% and 80%.
Given that about three-quarters of commercials are fast-forwarded during playback, that means between 30% and 60% of all prime-time commercials in DVR homes are skipped. And that’s just within seven days of the initial broadcast (which rises dramatically if you look at Nielsen’s new 35 days of delayed viewing).
Ten years ago, this was the single biggest concern among TV advertisers. The implementation of C3, which was initially designed as a one- or two-year band-aid, erroneously led too many people to believe the problem was resolved. But as everyone should by now understand, C3 does not measure fast-forwarding through commercials. The industry needs to once again address how to provide more granular audience measurement.
Pre-Season Buzz Doesn’t Matter
Regardless of how the primary sources of new series buzz have changed over the years, one thing is consistently clear: There’s virtually no correlation between the amount of pre-season buzz a new TV series receives and whether the show becomes successful. The success rate of the most buzzed-about new shows is virtually the same as for all series in general.
Promotion Matters. Cross-Promotion Matters More
How many people heard anything about the legal drama “Doubt,” or the time-traveling show “Time After Time”? Not many, I would guess. The former wasn’t that good, but the latter had potential. Both were on and off the air before all but a few people even knew they existed.
Broadcast networks still stubbornly refuse to accept promos from other broadcast networks, while gladly accepting them from their real competitors, such as HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and ad-supported cable. More than half the shows I regularly watch on cable, I found out about through promos on a different network. I can’t say the same for anything I regularly watch on a broadcast network.
Rating Gains or Losses Should
Matter, But Won’t
If you asked network executives whether they would rather have their average rating rise by 10% but slip in the standings, or lose 10% of their audience but move into 1st place (for broadcast) or into the top 10 (for cable), they would all prefer to lose viewers and move up in the standings. As the upfront process rewards rankings over ratings, and big data continues to highlight indexes over audience size, this is not likely to change (and will continue to be one of the major reasons prime-time ratings continue to decline).
Will Matter — Eventually
I have an instinctive bias against sellers cooperating to propose a “better way” of buying. This type of thing is often designed to mask the fact that the traditional age/sex ratings are declining. But Viacom, Turner, and Fox, have great research groups and some of the top people in the business, so I’m reserving judgment until I can evaluate exactly what they are doing. Still, there is so much data out there these days, and so much of it is bad, that this might be just what the industry needs. This seems like more of a planning than a buying tool, so any real impact probably won’t be felt until after this upfront. Until more companies come on board, it may not be widely accepted, but you have to start somewhere if you want to change the world.