No October Surprise as Broadcast TV's C3 Ratings Slide 8%

Commercial Deliveries Slip as Appetite for Live TV Dwindles

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ABC's 'Quantico' is one of a handful of shows that enjoys big C3 gains.
ABC's 'Quantico' is one of a handful of shows that enjoys big C3 gains. Credit: ABC

Broadcast ratings in the currency that advertisers count are continuing to slide, as gains in commercial deliveries during delayed viewing does little to counteract Americans' dwindling appetite for live TV.

According to Nielsen C3 data, October prime-time broadcast ratings at the Big Four nets were down 8% from a year earlier. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox last month combined for an aggregate average C3 delivery of 10.4 million adults 18 to 49, which translates to an 8.2 C3 rating in that demo.

In October 2014, the four nets combined for a cumulative average C3 delivery of 11.3 million viewers 18 to 49, translating to an 8.9 C3 rating in the demo.

The four-week period coincides with Week 2 through 5 of the 2015-16 broadcast season, spanning the interval from Sept. 28 through Oct. 25 this year.

C3's slim gain
Over that timeframe, broadcasters averaged a 2.1 per network in the demo in the C3 currency, up from a 1.9 in live-plus-same-day. While the two-tenths of a point improvement in commercial deliveries is better than a kick in the metaphorical pants, it also reinforces the notion that very little ad views are salvaged or recaptured during time-shifted viewing.

Of course, on a show-by-show basis, there are exceptions, although in nearly every case in which a significant lift is accomplished in C3, it's merely a case of the rich getting richer.

The currency against which all TV ad transactions are made (although C7 is making gains), C3 blends a very rough estimate of average commercial ratings with three days of time-shifted viewing; as such, it offers networks, buyers and marketers the best approximation of actual ad deliveries.

One network is up
NBC was the lone Big Four broadcaster to beat out its October 2014 performance in C3, averaging 3.34 million adults 18 to 49, or a 2.6 C3 rating, up 2% from the year-ago 3.28 million. Last month's C3 performance marked an 8% lift when compared to the 2.4 demo rating NBC notched in live-same-day.

CBS dropped 10% to 2.75 million adults 18 to 49, and while the network's C3 deliveries in its target demo (adults 25 to 54) were higher, the year-over-year percentage declines were largely the same. As a function of live-plus-same-day versus C3, CBS in October saw its commercial deliveries inch up by one-tenth of a point, to a 2.2.

ABC fell 12% to 2.22 million adults 18 to 49, or a 1.8 in the demo. That C3 average was up two-tenths of a point when compared to ABC's October live-plus-same-day average (1.6). Lastly, Fox tumbled 23% with an average C3 delivery of 1.86 million members of the under-50 club. It showed no change upon conversion from L+SD to C3, staying at a 1.5 rating.

As mentioned earlier, the composition of Nielsen's calendar adheres to its own internal logic; as such, all five of Fox's 2015 World Series broadcasts were pushed into what is officially being characterized as "November." Look for Fox's ratings for Weeks 6 through 9 to show sharp improvement when compared to the year-ago numbers.

Glimmer of good news
If the latest batch of C3 data weren't necessarily cause for celebration, the sequential improvement was somewhat encouraging. According to Nielsen, the Big Four in September saw their average prime-time C3 ratings fall 12% versus the year-ago period. So October's 8% YOY decline offers a small measure of solace.

On the other side of the ledger, ad-supported cable ratings last month fell 6%. Powered by its flagship channel, the AMC Networks portfolio was up 2% in C3 with a 1.0 average nightly 18-to-49 demo rating, while the Turner Broadcasting nets tied Viacom for the highest aggregate rating with a 2.1, flat, for Turner, versus the year-ago period. (That marked a strong rebound from September, when Turner's currency ratings fell 13%.) The Scripps Networks portfolio (0.8) was also unchanged.

Elsewhere, the Discovery nets slipped 2% to a 1.3, Disney was down 3% to a 1.6, the aforementioned Viacom dropped 6%, NBC Universal's cable suite fell 7% to a 1.6, the 21st Century Fox nets dropped 13% to a 1.3 and A&E Networks slid 13% to a 0.9 C3 rating.

The number of adults 18 to 49 watching broadcast TV in October fell 9% YOY, while ad-supported cable usage dropped 3%. When live- and time-shifted viewing stats were blended, overall TV usage by people in the so-called dollar demo slipped 5% from October 2014.

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