Move over, monthly average users (MAUs) — there’s a new acronym in town.
Speaking at Fox’s Q4 2020 earnings presentation Tuesday, CEO Lachlan Murdoch denounced MAUs as an AVOD performance metric, instead pushing total view time, or TVT, as the true benchmark for comparison.
If you thought you heard faint strains of Alanis Morrisette singing “Ironic,” that’s likely due to Murdoch then not giving the TVT stats for Tubi, saying only that it had grown by 70% across Q3 and Q4 without a baseline for comparison. The only publicly available TVT metric for Tubi came in Q3’s call, when Murdoch disclosed 220 million hours in September during an investor Q&A in which he was pressed for more information.
The irony is further compounded by Tubi itself releasing a report in January that didn’t mention TVT and instead focused on MAUs as the prime performance metric.
In fairness, AVOD measurement has become something of the wild West recently. NBCUniversal’s Peacock is leading the charge in reporting meaningless measurement figures designed to obscure the reality of active user counts by reporting solely the number of people who have signed up for Peacock, either for a free account or a paid subscription, at any point since the service. It should not be equated to current users or subscribers.
Roku doesn’t break out how many of its active accounts watch content on the Roku Channel, although that may change given the investment in Quibi content will see investors wanting to know how this impacted performance. Amazon also doesn’t break out audience data for IMDb TV and Twitch.
The prior MAU metric was hardly perfect. Tubi used to release a combined U.S. and international audience figure, while others were U.S. only. And there is some merit to Murdoch’s critique that MAUs are not that meaningful for measuring performance, given it masked how often users engaged with the service. In MAU terms, a base of 30 million people watching for 1 minute a month is “better” than 10 million people watching for 5 hours a month.
But imperfect as it was, MAU figures did allow some sort of comparison to be drawn among the leading AVODs. Murdoch’s metric about-face will be frustrating for analysts and investors, as it will now be very difficult to judge where Tubi sits versus rivals like Pluto and Xumo.
A likely reason for Murdoch switching metrics is that Tubi’s MAU gains have slowed since Tubi’s September announcement that it had hit 33 million monthly average users. Cynics would argue that, fearing Pluto would announce a greater MAU level, Fox opted to not release one so as not to appear behind in the race.
User slowdown isn’t necessarily bad for business. Increased users don’t automatically mean increased profits given acquisition costs in marketing and the opportunity to grow existing users into ones spending more time with the service. Instead, investors are facing a void in meaningful stats.
The next time Murdoch and top Fox officials speak with investors, they should feel more confident about Tubi and share some real performance data. Murdoch is right to want to have more legitimate AVOD stats across the industry, but Fox should lead by example.
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