CBS aims to accelerate the industry’s shift to Live Plus 7 as the standard metric for evaluating the performance of primetime series. The Eye said Wednesday it will add projected Live Plus 7 numbers to its daily overnight ratings reports as of next week, which marks the official start of the 2014-15 season and the rollout of the bulk of CBS’ fall slate.
The move is meant to be a statement to the TV biz and to advertisers that L7 ratings (and their C7 commercial ratings counterpart) should be seen as the new normal, given the vast growth of time-shifted viewing. Live Plus 7 ratings reflect viewing done via DVR and VOD within seven days of a telecast’s linear premiere. For a host of complicated reasons, L7 numbers do not include most streaming activity other than live streaming of network programming done on a smartphone or tablet within the confines of the viewer’s home.
Fox has been offering Live Plus 3 and L7 projections for most of its shows for a year. FX recently made the decision to hold back overnight ratings on its premieres until the L3 ratings were in hand. The more L7 numbers are accepted as the final word on a program’s fate, the more advertisers will warm up to those numbers as the standard for dealmaking. Or so the major media congloms hope.
“L7 and C7 are the metrics that more accurately account for how viewers watch our shows and how we get paid for our programming – both in advertising and content licensing,” said CBS Corp. prexy-CEO Leslie Moonves. “C7 deals were a significant part of our upfront negotiations this year, and we are doing more and more C7 deals all of the time. As new technologies continue to improve audience measurement across all platforms, these more precise metrics are becoming the industry standard, benefitting advertisers and content providers alike.”
David Poltrack, CBS Corp.’s chief research officer, compared evaluating a show’s performance on overnight numbers to “reporting the results of a baseball game after the fifth inning.”
The L7 projections will be based largely on past performance for existing shows. For new shows, the projections will be based on past history for shows of the same genre and shows airing on the same night of the week until the program has been on long enough to generate its own track record. Projections will be made for each program’s perf in total viewers, adults 18-49 and adults 25-54.
The biggest network hits such as CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory,” NBC’s “The Blacklist” or ABC’s “Modern Family” see as much as a 50% spike in adults 18-49 ratings when L7 numbered are factored in. For lower-profile shows, the additional L7 viewership can make or break a show’s chances of getting renewed.
CBS, like all of the major broadcast nets, release detailed ratings to the media every weekday. That tradition has made daily ratings reporting a standard element for entertainment-focused news outlets and plenty of armchair Nielsen pundits on the web and in social media.
Much of the TV biz for decades has revolved around the daily horse-race aspect of the overnight ratings (which start to roll in as early as 6 a.m. ET) but the double-digit growth of time shifted viewing in recent years is forcing big changes. TV execs have increasingly lamented that the biz-focused media is still declaring hits and misses based on overnight numbers.
Generating the L7 projections promises to be a Herculean task for Poltrack and his team. Poltrack and Greg Kasparian, CBS’ senior VP of audience measurement, will oversee the development of the algorithm used for the L7 estimates. But the process also requires some significant manual effort, such as looking at the competitive landscape on every night. If a program is airing opposite a major sporting event or a highly promoted episode on a rival network, the projection needs to be adjusted accordingly, Poltrack noted.
The first few weeks of any new season are always unpredictable because of all the sampling that viewers do of new and returning shows.
“We’ll be calling those audibles day in and day out for the first few weeks until the patterns are more established,” he said.
Another challenge will be to accurately gauge the amount of time shifted viewing for a show when the rate of delayed viewing has grown so substantially year-over-year for the past few years. The night that a program airs is also key. Poltrack noted that the highest concentration of DVR/VOD viewing happens outside of primetime on Saturday and Sunday. But shows that air on a Monday or Tuesday night are likely to be viewed during the week, while shows airing on Thursday or Friday are likely to be played back over the weekend.
Poltrack is also looking forward to the results in the coming weeks from CBS’ proprietary panel of viewers that it assembles every year from people recruited through its CBS Vision research facility in Las Vegas and among those who visit CBS Television City, where “Price is Right,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and other non-CBS shows are shot.
CBS expects to get detailed reports of daily viewing activity from about 4,000 respondents. It’s a research maven’s dream, Poltrack admitted.
“We’ll have our panelists telling us what they’re doing and why they’re doing it,” he said.