TV Ratings: The Future Is Less, Not More

Television business writing has reached a new direction in terms of ratings -- true south.

Imagine a lead paragraph in a TV trade talking about the highest ratings for a particular show -- and that those numbers are a Nielsen Media Research 0.6 household number.

That's right, less than a 1 rating. And, mind you, it's the highest ratings for the show.  This is how Broadcasting & Cable described Oxygen's reality series, "Tori & Dean: Inn Love," about the lives of actress Tori Spelling and her husband Dean McDermott and their adventures in opening up a bed-and-breakfast in southern California.

Of course, you can't blame Oxygen. Being a midsize cable network in some 73 million homes, it can't, as yet, offer up big number of the more established cable networks.

What the 0.6 number really shows is the direction viewership numbers will take in the future, especially when it comes to video that runs on super-niche digital platforms.



No doubt three or four years from now we'll be talking about the NBC-News Corp. Internet site and how its original online show, starring say Mary-Kate Olsen, earns a big-time 0.0006 rating among 18-49 viewers. 

How do you spell success? Numbers don't lie, but maybe viewership numbers don't tell the whole story. There are other measures -- engagement and the like.  Can we get used to those numbers when in the future, every marketer, it seems, will have its own individual measure of involvement and attentiveness in response to a video? 

With that in mind, the best way to look at video is advertising price. Say the Olsen show earns $90 cost per thousands among 18-49 viewers -- which would be about three times the rate on traditional TV right now. That's some pretty good press, right there.

Who cares if 1,145 viewers watched the hit Olsen comedy -- especially when the next show is getting 847 viewers? The question is how much advertisers paid up for it. Given the increasingly importance of Sarbanes-Oxley financial accounting rules, networks should be obligated to reveal such pricing information.

Otherwise, you are dealing in viewership fractions -- within a fractionalized entertainment universe. That's too small for the naked eye. Better save your sight for those three-and-half-inch mobile phone diagonal video players screens. 

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