With just two-and-a-half weeks left before the 2015-16 broadcast season comes shuddering to a halt, there's not much worth celebrating on the live ratings front. The Big Four are about to slam the door on a 10th straight season of year-over-year demo declines, and barring a creative disdain for semantics, not a single new scripted show can truly be characterized as a "hit."
If rapidly shifting viewer habits are making a hash of the hoary old ratings dynamic, there are signs that on-demand deliveries are salvaging a good deal of commercial impressions that would otherwise appear to have evaporated entirely. Through the first 29 weeks of the 2015-16 broadcast campaign, 11 shows are adding at least three-tenths of a ratings point to their seasonal averages in the adults 18-49 demo, upon the application of up to seven days of VOD playback. Toss a handful of cable titles into the mix and the roster of VOD MVPs swells to 14 shows.
Fox is particularly well-represented in the VOD standings, as it and cable sibling FX account for the six series that demonstrate the most significant on-demand lifts. At the top of the list, "Empire" adds to its already impressive live deliveries; with a week's worth of on-demand views blended into its seasonal average, the hip-hopera jumps 0.7 points from a 4.7 demo rating to a 5.4, for a net gain of 15%.
As we've seen over the course of its two-year reign as broadcast's top-rated scripted show, the lifts it makes via VOD only serve to improve its performance in the currency. Earlier this season, "Empire" saw its demo ratings jump 26% upon conversion from live-same-day to C7, the currency against which Fox writes the majority of its guarantees to advertisers. VOD views are instrumental in growing currency deliveries, as the platform does not allow for the sort of ad-skipping that makes DVR playback such a dicey proposition.
"VOD represents an emerging opportunity for brands in the premium video marketplace," said John Swift, Omnicom Media Group's CEO of North American Investment. "Consumers actively seeking out content on their own terms and schedule leads to a more engaged viewer experience."
Joining "Empire" at the top of the VOD heap is another Fox show that already put up strong live numbers. Seven days of VOD views added 0.6 points to the six-episode demo average for season 10 of "The X Files," lifting the show from a 3.2 live rating to a 3.8. Right behind Mulder and Scully was FX's "American Crime Story: The People Vs. OJ Simpson," which added 0.4 points via VOD, finishing its 10-episode run with an average draw of a 1.7 in the network's target demo.
Other top VOD performers were Fox's "Lucifer" (+0.4), FX's "American Horror Story: Hotel" (+0.3) and Fox's "Scream Queens" (+0.3). Thanks in large part to VOD catch-up, Ryan Murphy's campus slasher spoof saw a disproportionate lift from its preliminary live deliveries to its final C7 ratings, thereby earning itself a second season.
While its difficult to qualify why Fox and FX programs perform as well as they do in the on-demand space -- according to Rentrak, in February alone, the two networks accounted for 21 of the top 30 VOD assets -- network execs credit a relatively youthful fan base and a portfolio of buzzworthy shows like "Empire," "Gotham" and "The X Files" to which many viewers are only now catching up.
As Fox Networks Group chairman and CEO Peter Rice would have it, storytelling goes a long way toward making the company's shows "destination viewing" for fans who increasingly watch TV on their own schedule. "As today's crowded digital marketplace creates a paradigm shift in audience measurement, our programming not only has proven itself to be indispensable, but has shown how time-shifted, multiplatform viewing is bringing new viewers into the fold," Mr. Rice said.
Fox isn't the only programmer to draw a crowd on cable/satellite VOD platforms. After seeing the live ratings for many of its top shows stumble, ABC has won back millions of impressions via on-demand. The network's TGIT lineup of legacy Shonda Rhimes dramas ("Grey's Anatomy," "Scandal," "How to Get Away with Murder") gained 0.3 ratings points in seven days of VOD playback, as did Thursday night newcomer "The Catch." And if the VOD adds have the predictable effect on the C3/C7 ratings, "The Catch" could very well improve from a bubble show (it is currently averaging a 1.0 in the demo in live-same-day) to a shoe-in for a renewal.
That Fox and ABC are making the biggest waves in VOD is not at all surprising; on a show-by-show basis, the two nets have enjoyed the most significant gains in C3/C7 since the season began back in September.
CBS and NBC were largely shut out of the top seven-day VOD shows, as each network is represented by a single top 20 on-demand program ("The Big Bang Theory" and "Blindspot," respectively). Meanwhile, the rich just get richer as AMC's "The Walking Dead," TV's No. 1 scripted show, tacked on another 0.3 points to its already torrid season 6 average (6.5 in live-same-day).
For all the ad-friendly benefits VOD brings, it isn't a cure-all for live ratings woes. Chances are, if a show is a demonstrable bust in live-same-day, it is unlikely to gain a significant audience in playback. Effectively canceled a month ago when its was pulled from the Sunday schedule, Fox's freshman comedy "Cooper Barrett's Guide to Surviving Life" eked out just two-hundredths (+0.02) of a demo bump with seven days of VOD deliveries.