'Lost,' 'Heroes' among leaders in power ratings

Shows remain strong marketing draw despite lower Nielsens

While ABC's "Lost" and NBC's "Heroes" have lost some steam in the Nielsen ratings over the past year, they remain two of the most valuable program franchises a marketer can tap into, according to the just-released calendar year "content power ratings" (CPR) released by Publicis Group's Optimedia.

The CPR rankings, which the media shop first launched a little more than a year ago, try to assess the overall value of network and cable TV programs to advertisers by going beyond the Nielsen TV ratings to look at factors such as program environment and viewer involvement, as well as by monitoring chatter on blogs and social networks about programs. (These are assessed in part by in-house qualitative research, involving a panel of several thousand viewers). The Optimedia ranking also considers a program's cross-platform viewing performance and trends on mobile and online.

As Optimedia U.S. CEO Antony Young explained in a Webinar unveiling the new rankings today, "TV isn't just TV anymore. Agencies buy shows, not ratings."

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

The shop's power ratings have also helped shape the agency's agenda for the upcoming upfront market place, said Young. "We're going to be really interested in the network's 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 marketing plans the networks are preparing for individual shows.

For the 2008 rankings, the science-fiction program genre fared exceptionally well during the year, as viewers sought escapist fare to distract themselves from the harsh realities of the recession, the Optimedia index showed. Lost was number two on the CPR ranking followed by Heroes at six and Fringe at 13.

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

Politics impacted the rankings last year, boosting Saturday Night Live to the top-ranked late night spot, helped by Tiny Fey's take on vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. In the fourth quarter, search volume for SNL clips online quintupled, per Google Trends. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart--always heavy on political satire--placed second among late night programs, per the Optimedia CPR rankings.

American Idol repeated as the top-ranked show in the CPR prime-time rankings. It dominated viewing across multiple platforms, "but went way beyond that," said Kahn, with theme park tie-ins, iTunes downloads of the show's performers and merchandising. "It really has taken on a life of its own," he said.

Rounding out the top 10 prime-time CPR shows are The Office, Dancing with the Stars, Grey's Anatomy, Family Guy, CSI, Survivor and House.

The top-ranked cable show in the CPR index was AMC's Mad Men, about Madison Avenue in the 1960s, which placed 30th out of the 200 prime-time shows that the index measured.

Premium cable shows turned in a surprisingly strong showing said Kahn, noting that Showtime's serial killer drama Dexter placed 33rd while Weeds, another Showtime original was not far behind at 41st. HBO's Entourage placed 43rd. "They were all very viable online and received a lot of buzz generally," he said. Not every advertiser, of course, will want to integrate its brand in a show about a serial killer, "but the point is that these shows can compete on a different level as well."

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