Sky U.K. Content Chief: "We're Under-Selling Ourselves" by Focusing on Traditional Ratings

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Zai Bennett

Zai Bennett says "we’re going to completely change the way that we measure and report on the performance of our programs" by concentrating on seven-day cumulative audiences.

U.S. TV industry executives have long complained that traditional ratings measurement methods aren't fully capturing TV viewership in the digital age, and calls for new ways of assessing audiences have also gotten louder in the U.K.

On Wednesday, the U.K. content chief of pay TV giant Sky publicly called for reporting audience data in new ways. "The way people are watching TV is changing dramatically. While traditional ‘linear’ viewing is still important, more TV shows than ever before are being watched on demand, or through devices other than a TV set," Zai Bennett, director of programs at Sky Entertainment U.K. and Ireland, said in a blog post. "And it’s not just younger viewers who are changing their viewing habits, we’re seeing big changes across the board from everyone under 45."

Highlighting that "many of these views aren’t being reported" and that "the way that the industry talks about TV viewing isn’t reflective of the ways that people are watching today," he expressed support for U.K. ratings firm BARB and its attempts to improve the way TV viewing is captured.

But Bennett also highlighted that while the norm is reports of overnight audiences or, at most, seven-day consolidated figures in some cases, that isn't a consistent focus. "At the moment there are gaps in the audience numbers that the industry uses," he said, adding that "we feel that these just don’t tell the full story." Plus, he mentioned that traditional ratings don't measure people who watch a show in a linear TV repeat.

Concluded the executive: "The way the industry reports on TV viewing ultimately means that we’re under-selling ourselves. We need to be more transparent."

What's the solution? "At Sky we’re going to completely change the way that we measure and report on the performance of our programs," Bennett said. "Our new focus will be a seven-day cumulative audience. This is available from BARB around two weeks after an episode first airs and captures viewing to all linear broadcasts, including repeats, as well as most catch-up and on-demand viewing through a TV set." Plus, the company will add in some of its own data.

For shows that the company releases at once as a full-season box set available on demand in addition to airing weekly episodes, it will also report on "total program consumption" once the season concludes, the Sky executive said.

Bennett said that some shows' audiences can increase by more than six times by the end of a season's run. "Any new TV series that we release as a box set on demand, alongside a traditional week-by-week transmission, such as Tin Star, Riviera or Fortitude 2, can have more than 60 percent of its audience completely missed in official figures," he said.

New drama Tin Star, starring Tim Roth and Christina Hendricks, for example, has been watched by more than 1.6 million people. "And 323,000 views have been made of the episode through the Sky Go app and [Sky's standalone streaming video service] Now TV," Bennett said. "When you compare this to the episode’s overnight audience of 342,000, it’s a big difference."

Sky has also seen more than half a million people binge-watch the entire 10 episodes of the show's first season on demand, "and the majority of this viewing won’t be captured by BARB at all," he said. "There have also been more than 1.4 million views of the series through Sky Go and Now TV."

Bennett also called on other U.K. TV companies to change the way they report audience figures. "Overall, this issue isn’t something that just affects us as a business, it affects the whole industry," he said. "I’d encourage other [networks] to also use a more transparent viewing picture, so we all have a more accurate sense of the shows that have really captured the public’s imagination."