For ad buyers, it's more than ratings

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Although ABC's "Lost" and NBC's "Heroes" have lost some steam in the Nielsen ratings, they remain two of the most valuable program franchises a marketer can tap into, according to the new Content Power Ratings released Thursday by Publicis' Optimedia.

The CPR rankings try to assess the overall value of network and cable TV programs to advertisers by going beyond the ratings, looking at such factors as program environment, viewer involvement and chatter on blogs and social networks. The rankings also consider a program's cross-platform viewing performance and trends on mobile and online.

"TV isn't just TV anymore. Agencies buy shows, not ratings," Optimedia U.S. CEO Antony Young said.

The conversation about declining TV ratings needs to be reframed, said Greg Kahn, senior vp and director of strategic resources at Optimedia. "It's now about viewership and engagement on multiple platforms," he said.

The power ratings, which the media shop launched a little more than a year ago, also have helped shape the agency's agenda for next week's upfront marketplace, Young said.

"We're going to be really interested in the networks' online video strategy," he said. "We're very interested in the cross-platform extensions for individual TV shows, which our power ratings indicate have a meaningful impact on their overall ranking."

Young also said the shop will be interested in the marketing plans the networks are preparing for individual shows.

For the '08 rankings, the science fiction program genre fared exceptionally well as viewers apparently sought escapist fare to distract themselves from the harsh realities of the recession, the Optimedia index showed. "Lost" was No. 2 on the CPR rankings; "Heroes" was sixth, and Fox's "Fringe" was 13th.

Comedy made a comeback as six series made the top 20 list in 2008, compared with two in 2007. "This is a genre the networks are sort of giving up on, and we encourage them not to do that," Kahn said.

Politics affected last year's rankings, boosting NBC's "Saturday Night Live" to the top late-night spot. In the fourth quarter, search volume for "SNL" clips online quintupled, according to Google Trends. Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" placed second among late-night programs, per the Optimedia CPR rankings.

Fox's "American Idol" repeated as the top show on the CPR primetime list. It dominated viewing across multiple platforms but included theme park tie-ins, iTunes downloads and merchandising.

Rounding out the top 10 primetime CPR shows are No. 3 "The Office" from NBC, No. 4 "Dancing With the Stars" (ABC), No. 5 "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC), No. 7 "Family Guy" (Fox), No. 8 "CSI" (CBS), No. 9 "Survivor" (CBS) and No. 10 "House" (Fox).

The top-ranked cable show in the CPR index is AMC's "Mad Men," which placed 30th out of the 200 primetime shows measured.

Premium cable shows turned in a surprisingly strong showing. Kahn noted that Showtime pair "Dexter" and "Weeds" placed 33rd and 41st, respectively, and HBO's "Entourage" logged in at No. 43.

"They were all very viable online," he said. Not every advertiser, of course, will want to integrate its brand in a show about a serial killer (like "Dexter"), "but the point is that these shows can compete on a different level as well."

In addition to its own research and Nielsen ratings, Optimedia culled data from Nielsen Online's VideoCensus, Comscore's Media Metrix 2.0, E-Poll's FastTrack Television and Dow Jones Factiva to formulate its power ratings.

Steve McClellan is media editor at Adweek.
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