Networks Campaign to Retire Live and Same-Day Ratings

New Girl Season 3 Finale Group - H 2014

New Girl Season 3 Finale Group - H 2014

If there's one thing networks can agree on, broadcast and cable alike, it's that morning-after ratings generally come far south of a TV series' total audience.

There are exceptions — reality remains a small benefactor of the DVR — but for the most part, time-shifted viewing now accounts for a significant portion of ratings. Trotting out a "bar chart gauntlet" — a mid-PowerPoint joke from Fox senior vp research Will Somers — execs from CBS, Fox, FX and Showtime each presented data on how audiences are currently consuming their biggest hits during Saturday's brief gathering at the Television Critics Association summer press tour.

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"If you were a sports reporter, you wouldn't report the winner on the third-inning score," CBS chief research officer David Poltrack told the crowd of reporters. "You can't do that. We all provide projections. The one thing you can be sure about our projections is that if one of us starts giving you a lot of bullshit, the others are going to let you know."

Most timely might have been FX's Julie Piepenkotter. The FX Networks exec vp  research plugged DVR gains for series like Sons of Anarchy and Fargo just a few days after the network released its first ratings info for freshman drama The Strain — five days after it premiered.

"We are no longer going to publicly issue communiques issuing live-plus-same-day data," she said. "We think five days for live-plus-three is worth the wait to more accurately report the story."

Whether that's going to dissuade outlets from reporting on their earlier ratings, publicly available by Nielsen, remains to be seen. And all agree that live events, news and sports still warrant next-day write-ups. But one good example of a network that's managed to steer its ratings conversation away from live viewing is Showtime.

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Yes, the pay cable network isn't beholden to advertisers like its peers, so it doesn't have to discuss any ratings, but Showtime's Kim Lemon (the only research exec on the panel also charged with scheduling) said that its been years since the network last paid attention to live viewing. Homeland, the network's most-watched series at 7 million weekly viewers, only brings in 32 percent of that number during a live Sunday night telecast.

"These new platforms are something we have eagerly embraced," said Lemon. "And you can see by the penetration numbers that [viewers] have. That's why for the last five or six years, we have been completely focused on a multiplatform total week for our shows. That's what we look at."

The Big Four, easily the networks feeling the most heat from live-plus-same day viewers, are also time-shifting more than many might thing. Last season, the average rating among adults 18-49 grew by an average 40 percent (with little variation) in live-plus-seven day ratings alone for ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

"What's interesting is how long the tail is becoming," added Somers. "There are still people watching the first episode of Sleepy Hollow."