Billions Of Viewing Minutes? CBS Data Sounds Impressive

A TV show called “Billions” appears on a CBS sister network, but CBS has apparently caught a billions bug of its own.

The network -- owned by ViacomCBS, owner of Showtime, the home of “Billions” -- sent an unusual announcement out last week.

The announcement reported that CBS leads the other three broadcast networks in the amount of minutes viewers have spent with each of them from the start of the fall season on September 20 through November 7.

If any network has done this before, or does it more or less regularly, such a tally has never passed before me in 38 years of covering the TV business.

So, what are we to make of it? On the face of it, just applying the word “billions” to an accounting of viewership sounds impressive.



Specifically, CBS says that in the first seven weeks of the fall season, viewers have “consumed” more than 166 billion minutes of CBS content tallied on a Total Day, seven-day-a-week basis.

The tally and rankings go like this: 166,736,706,000 minutes for its own content, 130,835,348,000 minutes for NBC; 108,631,766,000 for Fox; and 98,544,142,000 minutes for ABC.

CBS also claimed viewing-minute victories for specific prime-time shows such as 3.5 billion minutes for the new drama “NCIS: Hawaii” and 1.5 billion for the new comedy “Ghosts” (pictured above).

CBS cites Nielsen Total Day “Most Current” data as the foundation for these viewing-minute calculations.

A couple of thoughts come to mind. One is the supposition that the margin of minute-viewership between fourth-place ABC and the other networks can be attributed at least in part to NFL football (keeping in mind that all four networks -- including ABC -- have some college football in the fall as well).

Still, ABC is the only one of the four without the NFL. Even Fox, which programs eight fewer hours of prime-time content per week than ABC, has more viewer minutes this fall -- a tally attributable to Fox’s plethora of NFL games, and the World Series too.

CBS’s ballyhooing of its viewing-minutes victory so far this fall might be the kind of announcement that one could qualify as a “scorecard” triumph.

In the world of network publicity, there is nothing wrong with taking a victory lap whenever a body of data warrants it.

That tradition certainly applies here. But it is also worth asking: What is the value of this data? Anyone reading this who has an answer to this question is free to provide it in the comments section below.

To be specific, as far as I know, advertising time is not sold according to billions of viewing minutes, although I suppose that a tally such as this might be useful in demonstrating the strength of some CBS shows relative to shows on the other networks.

On this subject, CBS’s press release said it has four of the top six shows in terms of viewing minutes -- an “aggregate [of] 10.4 billion minutes watched.”

But to my knowledge, no one buys advertising schedules according to viewing minutes in the billions. And if they do, please enlighten me.

The word “billions” does have its strengths, though. It is a number that is so high that it is difficult for most people to get their heads around. For many of us, the reaction is something like: Billions? Wow, that’s a lot!

The billions-of-minutes approach reminds me of analogies you sometimes read that are just as difficult to comprehend.

An example might be the occasional news feature about the environment that ventures the idea that if you stand up every plastic water bottle end-to-end that consumers around the world discard in a single week, this stack would reach the moon or some such.

Things like this defy our understanding. But like CBS’s research into the billions of minutes viewers spend with the network’s shows, it certainly sounds good.

5 comments about "Billions Of Viewing Minutes? CBS Data Sounds Impressive".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 15, 2021 at 8:58 a.m.

    Quite right, Adam. They are just expressing their Nielsens "the digital way"---that's cool, don't you know. Instead of telling us what their average minure audience was  or citing---perish the thought--- their ratings, we get box car tonnage figures that nobody understands---expcept for the fact that one network's box car numbers are bigger than anothers. just wait until the end of the season for a recap like this---we may be talking trillions, not billions. Of course, only about a third of those "minutes" actually represent viewers with their eyes on the screen---but that's another story.

  2. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development, November 15, 2021 at 1:31 p.m.

    And of course the other thing (that bosses like Ed at BBDO & Art Greenfield at Y&R taught me in days of old) was/is that these numbers, for advertisers paying the freight, are pretty much useless given their tenuous relationship to the actual viewing of commercials. But, as Adam rightly points out, there's never a shortage of braggarts and bragging.

  3. John Grono from GAP Research, November 15, 2021 at 2:13 p.m.

    Adam, given that digital video metrics typically have a 2-second threshold (if they have a qualifying threshold at all), I think CBS is selling themselves shory.

    Sure 166,736,706,000 is a big number, but 10,004,202,360,000 (seconds) is a MUCH bigger numnber and is in the rarefied 10 trillion club.

  4. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics, November 15, 2021 at 4:23 p.m.

    A minute viewed is equal to an impression lasting a minute (with rounding, of course). Since a digital impression is counted when it lasts 2 seconds, the number is lower than what would be counted by most digital sources -- as has been pointed out already. I'm sure CBS would be happy to provide you with figures on season to date ad minutes delivered, which would also be less than if they counted using the two second rule. I would be in the trillions, and as Dave Morgan has pointed out many times before, dwarf digital ad supported sources as well.

    Now Netflix makes no more money from subscribers if they watch for more seconds or less.  Nevertheless, they also have announced minutes as their metric of choice.

    In the end, hours, minutes, seconds can provide clean comparisons of usage for all kinds of distributors, ad supported, subscription supported, publicly supported, whatever.  It combines the how many (reach) how often (frequency), how long (duration) pieces into one universally suitable number.  It's about as level a playing field as there is. 

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 15, 2021 at 4:59 p.m.

    Jack, my beef is with the idea that citing "impressions" is a great leap forward---it isn't. We always had the numbers of homes or "viewers" supposedly watching on an average minute basis---that's how CPMs were  figured out in 1960.  Regarding the playing field being leveled by referring to "impressions" rather than GRPs, that's simply not the case. For example, if TVision's findings are correct---and I generally accept them as being fairly close to the truth--- 30% of CBS's "impressions"--- or GRPs--- are phantoms. That is the "viewer"wasn't even in the room when the ad appeared on his/her screen. Comparing these stats with  projections for , say, YouTube videos is not a one on one deal. Youtube's ad viewers---per TVision---- devote less time to a commercial that those who watch "linear TV" commercials. It's all in our upcoming and totally reoriented "TV Dimensions 2022"---which we have renamed "Total TV Dimensions 2022" to reflect a whole new approach---one that puts all forms of "TV" viewing and all of the ways that it is done under the same looking glass.

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