They're the numbers the broadcast networks do not want you to see, the currency data against which some $22.7 billion in national ad sales transactions are guaranteed. But when exposed to the light, they actually offer a glimmer of hope to a besieged industry.
Ad Age has acquired the C7 ratings data for the first three weeks of the 2015-16 broadcast TV season, and as was the case earlier in the month when we parsed the first batch of C3 numbers, a number of prime-time shows are winning back a significant amount of ad deliveries that would otherwise be lost to the DVR. And one broadcast network has turned double-digit year-over-year declines into modest growth.
A sort of extended dance remix of the C3 currency, C7 is a blend of average commercial ratings in a live broadcast and one week's worth of subsequent time-shifted deliveries. It's increasingly supplanting the three-day standard, although the lift from C3 to C7 remains incremental, at best. Season-to-date, the Big Four have improved their prime time deliveries in the adults 18-to-49 demo by one-tenth of a rating point upon conversion from C3 to C7.
According to the Nielsen data, 11 shows gained one-half a ratings point or more when their three-week (Sept. 21-Oct. 11) live-plus-same-day numbers were transitioned to C7. The series that boasted the biggest lift in the period already tears it up in live-plus-same-day; Fox's "Empire" jumped 1.5 ratings points upon conversion to C7, growing from an initial 5.8 in the 18-to-49 demo to a 7.3, an increase of 26%.
It's no coincidence that "Empire" in each of the first three weeks was also the No. 1 VOD program on Comcast's Xfinity On Demand platform, which effectively assures commercial impressions by disabling the fast-forward button, thereby making it all but impossible to zip through the spots. (The nation's largest cable operator, Comcast serves 22.3 million video subscribers.)
Of the Big Four networks, Fox enjoys the most pronounced lift from live-plus-same-day to C7, gaining an average edge of 0.4 points upon conversion. ABC, which like Fox has had success in weaning viewers off the DVR, averaged a 0.3-point lift, while NBC and CBS tied at a 0.2 increase.
When viewed through the spectrum of C7, Fox's overall prime-time 18-to-49 deliveries are up 4% versus the year-ago period, making it the only broadcaster to show growth in that three-week span. NBC is off 2%, CBS is down 5% and ABC is down 11%.
In live-plus-same-day terms, Fox's ratings for the first three weeks of the season fell nearly 28%.
As the first week of C3 data demonstrated, currency conversion favors shows that already draw strong live ratings. For example, ABC boasts three dramas in C7 that added 0.7 points to their respective live-same-day ratings; "Scandal" improved 24% from an already hearty 2.9 in the demo to a 3.6, while "How to Get Away with Murder" jumped 29% from a 2.3 to a 3.1 and freshman series "Quantico" grew 39% from a 1.8 to a 2.5.
The same principle applied at NBC, which saw "Blindspot," the season's top-rated new drama, gain 0.6 points upon conversion to C7, improving 22% from a 2.6 live-same-day rating to a 3.3. CBS posted similar results for two of its strongest drama series, as "Criminal Minds" and newbie "Limitless" both improved 33% with a gain of 0.6 points. The rich get richer, the poor get bupkis; on average, shows that deliver less than a 1.5 live-plus-same-day rating earn a meager 0.2-point lift in C7.
The one outlier that defies the pattern is Fox's youthful-skewing "Scream Queens." While the campy Ryan Murphy slasher send-up in its first three weeks averaged just a 1.4 in the key 18-to-49-year-old demo, it soared 50% to a 2.1 when the 21 days of average commercial deliveries were tossed into the mix. On a percentile basis, this makes "Scream Queens" the Most Improved Player of the fall season, and transforms it from a bubble show flirting with make-good obligations to a candidate for a renewal.
As one might expect, the freshman shows that have had their initial episodes trimmed didn't win back enough C7 points to avoid de facto cancellation. NBC's "The Player" inched up to a 1.2 in the demo from an initial 1.0 rating, while Fox's "Minority Report's" 0.3-point bump to a 1.2 was equally inconsequential. Nor could a bonus tenth save ABC's "Blood & Oil," which is the network's lowest-rated scripted series in C7 (1.3).
Broadcast sales organizations keep the C3 and C7 currency figures under lock and key, preferring instead to push the hokum that is the live-plus-three-day and live-plus-seven-day data. While those present a more accurate picture of viewing trends than live-plus-same-day stats, they also don't include a stitch of commercial ratings insight. Moreover, the L+3 and L+7 stats are front-loaded with DVR deliveries, which are all but irrelevant to advertisers, given the frequency with which DVR viewers skip the ads in their recorded programs.
CBS has led the charge to write more business against the more expansive ratings currency, which will only become more enticing to marketers as dynamic ad-insertion technology improves in the VOD space. For its part, Fox this summer said it wrote more than half of its 2015-16 upfront deals against C7.
On the agency side, GroupM has been the prime mover in the push to write more C7 deals.