CBS Ratings Chief: New TV Season off to 'Chaotic' Start


But more viewers taking advantage of multi-platform viewing options, says David Poltrack.

David Poltrack, CBS Corporation’s chief research officer, admits that the 2012-13 television season has got off to “a chaotic start.”

He laid out several “disruptive factors” at his annual presentation Monday at the UBS Global Media and Communications conference in New York -- including early premieres of some shows on alternative platforms, the presidential debates and election, a one week later start to the season and the preemptions and power and cable outages caused by Hurricane Sandy.

But, Poltrack said, “sampling levels” are actually higher than last season once the many new platforms and delivery systems available to consumers are factored in.

For the first two weeks of the season, 43 percent of viewers watched shows live as scheduled compared to 47 percent in 2011. But time shifting with the DVR was only up one percentage point year-over-year to 51 percent. Meanwhile, streaming or downloading was up to 5 percent from 3 percent last year and VOD was up to 6 percent compared to 3 percent last year.

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But for younger viewers 18-29, live viewing was down to 32 percent year-over-year while streaming was up from 12 percent last season to 15 percent. VOD had the most dramatic jump among young viewers, up to 10 percent compared to only 4 percent for the first two weeks of the 2011-12 season.

DVR penetration is at 44 percent compared to 36 percent two years ago. But the most dramatic shift in delivery systems has come via smartphones; up to 56 percent from 28 percent two years ago, while 16 percent of TV households report owning tablets.

Interestingly, in fall 2011, 54 percent of adult viewers were “fully connected” – meaning they had digital TV and broadband – while only 18 percent were categorized as “web centric” with broadband, but no digital. These are the so-called chord cutters. At that time, 15 percent of adults were considered “TV centric,” meaning they have digital TV but no broadband. Fast-forward to fall 2012 and 21 percent are “web centric." But the declines among those “fully connected” and “TV centric” were minimal, one percent each. Thus proving, according to Poltrack, that alternative viewing is additive.

So far this season, How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory have each been streamed more than 1 million times while NCIS has notched 783,000 streams. The only new series in CBS’ streamed top ten this season is Elementary with 489,000. As expected, the online median age of viewers is much younger than those viewing on linear TV. HIMYM had an online median age of 26 compared to 43 on TV; at 31, Big Bang’s online median age was nearly 20 years younger than those watching the show on TV; and Elementary dropped from a TV median age of 57 to a 36 online.

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VOD is an increasingly important supplemental viewing platform that can also support commercials. Several operators are experimenting with dynamic ad insertion (where old ads are updated with new ones) in VOD offerings. For the first three weeks of the season, The Big Bang Theory has recorded 1.2 million VODs followed by Elementary (959,000) and NCIS (852,000).

When you look at patterns of online streaming and VOD viewing, said Poltrack, Elementary “has been enthusiastically received by those who have seen it. Streaming and DVD allow sampling but also allow viewers to catch up. We see weekly spikes of all episodes on Thursday nights when the live show airs and on the following Friday night.”

And all of this, concluded Poltrack, helps in accelerating “the adoption curve for successful new programs."