It could be seen as a threat to the $70 billion in television ads bought each year: So far this season, average primetime ratings for live and same-day viewing among 18-49-year-olds has fallen by more than 10% for ABC, CBS and Fox, according to UBS investment research. Fox has suffered the largest decline, with ratings in that audience group falling by nearly a third so far this season, reported The Financial Times. Only NBC has registered a season-to-date increase in average primetime ratings among 18-49 year olds, up 22%–likely due to NFL Football.
“People are watching more programming than ever but they are increasingly time-shifting,” said Les Moonves, CBS CEO, in a conference call last week, echoing the views of executives at News Corp, Time Warner and Disney. “Because more and more people are absorbing content, and we’re going to get paid more and more.”
Buyers, however, argue that they are already paying for that additional viewership and that they have little incentive to pay extra for something that they already are buying. The debate sets the stage for a substantial overhaul in the way that advertisers evaluate the value of TV spots. It also heralds what are expected to be contentious negotiations between television networks and advertising buyers during the upfront this spring.
Nielsen is working to capture television viewing wherever and whenever it occurs, but that it was up to the industry to adopt those new metrics. The networks are also trying to extend the C3 ratings currency to a seven-day window.
Bob Iger, Disney CEO, acknowledged that the ratings drop-off could be related to the quality of the programming. “The other story is that there seems to be somewhat of an absence of what I’ll call new, big, real, buzz-worthy hits,” he said. “Because of that, I would say that it would be premature to either write the epitaph or suggest we’re seeing a trend.”
RBR-TVBR observation: Sure, if it can be proven that viewing is substantial in a seven-day window after programs air live, that may be worth changing the currency. But many advertisers say their ads will not be relevant after seven days—especially time-sensitive sales. We may end up seeing upfronts shift more and more to online, on-demand viewing. They likely won’t garner nearly the rate that live airing does, however. It should be interesting to see how the upfront fares next spring if these numbers continue to tank.
Looking at it from another, larger angle, a comment in the FT story also sums it up quite well–cord-cutting: “We have highspeed internet and an Xbox460. We have xBox gold for $5 a month, Netflix streaming for $8 a month and HuluPlus with limited commercials for $8 a month. So now cable and our bill is 1/3 what is was with essentially what we had before without any political commercials…it’s awesome.”