TV's New Metrics -- Ben Silverman Knows The Score

Is a network that is down 13% in ratings but up 50% in profitability a success? From just these metrics you might say, at this specific moment, yes.

These numbers are attached to NBC network, and in particular a reflection on Ben Silverman , co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios.

At the same time, we all know a deeper score: NBC's new shows are struggling and its mothership drama, "Heroes" has been teetering in the ratings.

"My Own Worst Enemy" and "Lipstick Jungle" are gone. "Kath & Kim" and "Knight Rider" might not be that far behind -- except for the fact they are bringing in some young audiences, most times a sign of hidden growth.

It is easy to bash Silverman. But the fact is, he's steered a number of shows to solid positions: "The Biggest Loser" and "Ugly Betty," to name a few. One major media agency executive told me: "Look at his track record. He didn't simply forget how to get good shows on the air."



Higher profitability is something to be applauded. How did NBC do it? Maybe one secret is what Silverman said earlier this year -- that every new NBC show this season has a branded entertainment component to it, which means some major marketer is sticking his or her neck out with advertising and product placement dollars in the hopes of latching on to some big TV hit.

What that really means is that NBC didn't get financially hurt too much. Additionally, that slim development season also yielded some savings.

As I've said before in this space, there's a better metric to consider. No, it is not minute-by-minute commercial viewership or behavioral targeting or engagement scores. Look at the metrics anyone can understand: pure dollars and cents.

Focus on gross advertising sales per show. For example, perhaps one big episode of "Heroes" made $3 million, up from the $2.8 million it made a week ago.

Maybe it should go deeper -- just examining profitability. Perhaps a "Law & Order" show had a net income of $1.2 million an episode, while another, weaker NBC drama is at $750,000. Maybe a show like "Lipstick Jungle" is at a net loss of $500,000 and "My Own Worst Enemy" at a worse-off $950,000 loss an episode.

Movie companies do this all the time with theatrical releases. Not only that but increasingly we know production budgets, that, for example, Warner Bros.' big summer hit, "The Dark Knight," may have spent $200 million.

Why not give us what Ben Silverman, and his boss Jeff Zucker, already understand? We can all do the math.

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