Commentary

The New TV Season Kicks Off, CBS Leads

Not sure that you realize it, but the new TV season has begun. What really matters this time around? Viewers? Advertisers? Maybe just profits.

Early returns are in -- that is, live-plus same-day time-shifted viewing, via Nielsen preliminary results. After two days, CBS leads, at around 6 to 7 million average prime-time viewers.

On Monday, CBS had 6.55 million, while NBC had 5.92 million, followed by ABC with 4.36 million, Fox at 3.61 million and CW with 419,000. Tuesday went somewhat in the same direction -- with CBS at 6.77 million, followed by NBC with 5.94 million, ABC at 2.41 million, Fox with 2.28 million and CW at 535,000.

We, of course, can’t glean much from this -- not in a time-shifted-watch-TV-whenever-you-want-world.

Let's see what seven days of time-shifted viewing brings. Or 14 days. Or 21 days.

Historically, live numbers could increase anywhere from 35% to 40% for many broadcast network entertainment shows. That could mean top programs could rise to 9 million or 11 million.

The bottom line is -- what do advertisers feel about this?

Strange as it sounds, lower ratings, apparently do not necessarily mean bad news -- at least according to some networks. NBCUniversal points to the Tokyo Summer Olympics this past summer.

Although traditional TV ratings were down over 40%, the company said the Olympics achieved strong results for those messages in terms of “engagement” -- which can mean many things to marketers.

Does it all result in actual higher monetization and profits? Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, has said that even against all the poor ratings, the Olympics will still be profitable.

That’s pretty remarkable. Does it speak to the durability of TV -- or some other fringe media business science?

The jury is out, probably making a snack while their TV is in a commercial-break pause. So then ask the next question:

With multiple 15% per TV season declines in prime-time ratings over the years -- even with added time-shifted viewing data -- can TV networks continue to make the same profitable prognostications for primetime say two, three, or four years from now?

This past summer witnessed sky high prime-time upfront pricing gains -- in part due to unfavorable comparisons a year before, an uncertain weak pandemic TV upfront period.

Sharply rising CPMs, the cost-per-thousand viewer prices, rose 20% to 30%. Better financials for broadcast networks? Don’t forget to add in continued rising retrans revenues.

That said, we know TV networks have less than a secret ace up their sleeve for the future: Their highly desired streaming services -- even if there isn’t enough ad inventory available on those services at present.

Lower next-day prime-time viewing numbers?

Don’t even look. They will barely tell you any decent business piece of this TV story.

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