Commentary

Hard To Tell The Biggest Viewing Show On TV - And It May Not Matter

It's six weeks into the new broadcast TV season — what are the “hits”?

Here are some numbers for new series: CBS’ “NCIS: Hawai’i” is averaging 8.7 million viewers, when looking at Nielsen’s live program plus seven-day time-shifted ratings (L7).

CBS’ “FBI: International” is 8.4 million; NBC’s “La Brea,” 8.1 million; CBS’ “Ghosts,” 7.8 million and CBS’ “CSI: Vegas,” 7.3 million for L+7. Further down the list -- NBC’s “Ordinary Joe,” 4.3 million; ABC’s “The Wonder Years,” 3.6 million and Fox’s “Alter Ego,” 3 million.

More recent Nielsen live program plus three days of time-shifted metric (L3) has ABC’s “Queens” at 2.3 million, Fox’s “Our Kind of People” at 2 million. Tops for the CW: “Legends of the Hidden Temple” with 302,000 viewers.
The top five shows for adults 18-49 range from 1.0 (NBC’s “La Brea) to 0.2 (NBC’s “Home Sweet Home”).

We've walked this floor before -- underwhelming TV audience data that has many shrugging their shoulders. Can someone please define a "hit" in the streaming age?

Well, of course, there are plenty of other metrics we haven’t addressed -- including comparative measures of ad-supported and ad-free programming. We also didn’t include viewing on Paramount+, Peacock, Hulu, or Tubi, because that data isn’t easily accessible.

Leap to the big topic here: A one-stop, cross-platform, verifiable, MRC-approved metric. Nielsen says it is trying -- and it may arrive in late 2022.

Other measuring companies are also looking to pounce. Looking for a new style panel-based measurement. Census-based? Server-based? We await.

It explains why NBCUniversal -- for years now -- remains upset. Do something, they would say. The network has a point.

Analysts and business journalists ponder the obvious. Beyond audience targeting, what are the top new TV shows U.S. viewers watch?

Is it Netflix’s “Squid Game”? Nielsen says “Squid Game” is at 3.26 billion minutes viewed for the week ending October 3 -- almost three times that of its nearest competitor. Is this the best new show? A hit? Compared to other streaming TV content, compared to say “NCIS: Hawai’i.”

Of course, here we are only looking at Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu and Apple TV+. And if we expand this list, do we include all ad-free content or not? (Hello, Hulu.)

And that’s the rub. Lots of questions remain -- for viewers, advertisers, TV producers and prospective competitors big and small.

1 comment about "Hard To Tell The Biggest Viewing Show On TV - And It May Not Matter".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 3, 2021 at 11:04 a.m.

    Wayne, in days gone by when the average TV home rating per minute for prime time TV was about 17% it was pretty easy to rate a "hit". Any show that exceded this norm by about 25%was considered a rating  star and many shows attained such status on a regular basis. But now, with ten times the number of channels competing for viewers as well as SVOD/AVOD services, the average commercial minute rating across this full array of content is, perhaps, .1-.2% so is a hit rating performance anything that's 25% higher---I don't think so.

    As for the way TV ratings are measured these days, we moved from average minute --- including all program content ---to only those minutes where commercials appear---which cuts the ratings in half for many primetime shows due to delayed viewing and commercial zapping, generally. In addition, lots of people watch only portions of shows---but enough to count as program viewers in that they were aware of the episode's storyline but came in too late or got bored/distracted and didn't finish watching. Because we use average minute---not total telecast---- ratings for time buying and selling purposes, these partial viewers are, by definition, under represented in the average minute stats. And, as you mentioned, there are those viewers who watch the shows via streaming or other means.

    As a guess, taking into account all of these variables, the average primetime broadcast network show's single telecast audience is probably understated by about 100% by the Nielsen stats, which means that a few of today's shows might actually be reaching numbers that in 1965 might have dubbed them modest hits----not in terms of TV home ratings but in terms of viewer projections. For example at that time a hit--by my definition---reached about 18 million viewers per minute.  How many of today's primetime shows garner that many viewers per minute---if the ratings were tabulated the same way and all viewers were included?

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