(Real) Ratings Race About to Begin

C3 numbers can dictate fate for shows on the bubble

The new TV season is well under
way and the overnight ratings have
already taken some victims, like Fox’s
Lone Star
. But the ad buyers who invested a
combined $8.6 billion already in broadcast
network programming are still waiting for the
numbers that will tell them whether or not their
bets on new and old shows are paying off.

It takes Nielsen about 20 days to calculate
C3, which is the basic currency of television
advertising, the ratings which measure viewing
of the national commercial minutes in
programs by consumers within three days of
air. And even then, Nielsen and the broadcast
networks usually keep those numbers under wraps.

As DVR penetration has hit approximately 38% at the
start of this season from 33% a year ago, delayed viewing
is becoming a more important consideration as networks
look at how and when their shows are being watched. At
the same time, since the introduction of C3, advertisers have
been able to get a better, if still imperfect, fix on how many
people are viewing their ads.

Media buyers say it’s tough to predict a C3 rating based on
the program ratings that Nielsen has already released. And
because for a show like The Office, which gets a 30% lift in
viewership from delayed viewing, that might be a good reason
for programmers to wait before making decisions about which
shows to cancel and which to keep on the schedule.

“The networks need to be more patient, because at least
theoretically you might be cancelling a show that really does have legs and will over the course of a season add
those viewers,” said David Scardino, entertainment
specialist at ad agency RPA.

The effect of delayed viewing varies for different
types of shows. Dancing With the Stars is a hit, even
though it gets little lift from DVRs. On the other
hand, DVR viewing is often very important to sci-fi oriented shows like NBC’s The Event, which the
network said was the most played-back new show
in the first few days of the season. That early success
may be fleeting: shows like FlashForward and V also
got a lot of delayed viewing early before flopping.

“I would be a little cautious with a show like
The Event. We’re going to need two or three
weeks of data to see if that delayed group
holds up,” Scardino says. “Those people are
going to be making the decision whether they
want to commit to watching every week.”

In general, Scardino says middle-of-the-pack
shows have the most to gain and lose when the
C3 ratings are available. “A really big percentage
of delayed viewers, 15, 20, 25%, can turn a
middle-of-the-pack show into a winner,” he says.
“And the reverse can turn it into more of loser.”

An exception to the need for waiting would
be an obvious bust like Lone Star. “My first
reaction when there was talk that Fox was
going to cancel it was, ‘Why not wait?’” Scardino said. But
Lone Star’s live viewing was “so low it would need recordsetting
delayed viewers to even get back in the ball game.”

Media analyst Shari Anne Brill says that while media agencies
base their buys on C3 ratings estimates, “it’s hard to
predict if a show is going to be the type that’s highly timeshifted.”
She notes that some CW shows nearly double their
ratings because of DVR playback.

Those viewers who watch commercials during DVR playback
might be very valuable to advertisers. “We know that
people stay around for commercials that interest them,” Brill
says. “There’s a lot of thinking that it’s the ultimate appointment

E-mail comments to jlafayette@nbmedia.com
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