It's been 11 years since TV rather begrudgingly adopted Nielsen's commercial ratings currency, and despite all the noise being made about the inadequacies of the entrenched audience-measurement scheme, the industry's Acme Problem persists.
If the term "Acme Problem" is unfamiliar, it's because we just made it up. A nod to Wile E. Coyote's inexplicable brand loyalty to the manufacturer of the shoddy rocket skates, anvils and catapults that were forever causing him grievous bodily harm, the metaphor seeks to contextualize the self-defeating behaviors that are forever blowing up in the face of the TV industry. Compromised metrics that offer about as much protection from ratings erosion as an umbrella provides in the face of a plummeting boulder, the C3 ratings currency and the slower-burning fuse of C7 have done almost nothing to offset the ad-obliterating ravages of the DVR.
Time-shifting and rampant commercial avoidance have wreaked havoc on the hoary ad-supported TV model, and while C3 and the enhanced C7 metric have helped a handful of already high-rated shows win back a good deal of impressions that would otherwise be lost to the predations of the DVR, the currency hasn't had much of an impact on the business as a whole. And as ad-skipping continues to accelerate, what was originally designed as a stopgap measure is proving no more efficient than holding up a tiny sign that reads "Eep!" right before gravity sends the cartoon coyote careening to the canyon floor.
For the fourth year in a row, Ad Age has managed to procure the first batch of commercial deliveries for the new broadcast season, and while the networks would prefer to keep that data under wraps, the transactional C3/C7 ratings are the only relevant benchmark for advertisers. Rather than regurgitate the DVR-inflated program ratings circulated by the networks—you'll see this data cited in other outlets as live-3, live-7 and live-30 data; presumably live-∞ is in the works—we prefer to traffic in the ratings figures against which broadcast inventory is priced and guaranteed.
|A18-49 (C3)||A18-49 (C7)||A18-49 (L+SD)||lift from L+SD to C3||lift from L+SD to C7|
|1||Sunday Night Football (NBC)||6.0||6.0||6.1||-0.1||-0.S|
|2||Thursday Night Football (Fox)||4.6||4.6||4.6||—||—|
|3||This Is Us (NBC)||3.0||3.3||2.7||+0.3||+0.6|
|4||The Big Bang Theory (CBS)||2.6/3.8||2.9/4.2||2.3/3.5||+0.3/+0.3||+0.6/+0.7|
||New Amsterdam (NBC)||2.0||2.2||1.7||+0.3||+0.5|
|9||Grey's Anatomy (ABC)||2.0||2.1||1.8||+0.2||+0.3|
|10||The Voice (NBC)||2.0||2.1||2.0||—||+0.1|
|11||Young Sheldon (CBS)||1.9/3.0||2.1/3.2||1.7/2.7||+0.2/+0.3||+0.4/+0.5|
||Last Man Standing (Fox)||1.8||1.9||1.6||+0.2||+0.3|
|13||Modern Family (ABC)||1.7||1.9||1.5||+0.2||+0.4|
|14||The Good Doctor (ABC)||1.7||1.9||1.2||+0.5||+0.7|
|17||The Simpsons (Fox)||1.6||1.6||1.6||—||—|
|20||60 Minutes (CBS)||1.5/2.1||1.5/2.1||1.5/2.2||—/-0.1||—/-0.1|
|21||Chicago P.D. (NBC)||1.5||1.7||1.2||+0.3||+0.5|
|23||Family Guy (Fox)||1.5||1.6||1.2||+0.3||+0.4|
|24||Chicago Med (NBC)||1.4||1.6||1.3||+0.1||+0.3|
||The Neighborhood (CBS) )||1.4/2.3||1.6/2.5||1.3/2.1||+0.1/+0.2||+0.3/+0.4|
Here's the bottom line: According to the primetime deliveries captured by Nielsen during the first two weeks of the 2018-19 broadcast season, a period extending from Sept. 24 through Oct. 7, the average lift for a network series' final C3 rating vs. its initial live-same-day delivery was just two-tenths of a ratings point, which works out to a net gain of approximately 257,700 adults 18-to-49. (That's in keeping with the gains of every analogous period going back to 2015.) In other words, the Big Four nets are adding a little over one-quarter-million demographically apposite commercial impressions upon the application of the three-day currency data.
The C7 numbers are only slightly more encouraging. The first two weeks of the new TV season saw the networks average a boost of three-tenths of a ratings point from live-same-day to the extended-dance-remix of C7, which translates to an additional 386,550 members of the demo who didn't break the social contract when the commercials began playing. And while any gain represents a victory of sorts, this year's C7 bounty isn't as robust as last year's, when the networks on average were able to claw back some 515,000 adults 18-to-49 via a week's worth of delayed viewing.
All told, the live-plus-same-day average for the 64 shows that aired in the first two weeks of the season worked out to a 1.3 rating, or some 1.68 million adults 18-to-49. C3 deliveries bumped the original rating up to a 1.5, good for around 1.93 million demographically desirable viewers, while the 1.6 C7 rating translated to 2.06 million adults under 50.
Developed as a compromise measure back in 2007, C3 blends a very rough estimate of average commercial ratings with three days of time-shifted viewing; as such, it offers networks, buyers and advertisers the best approximation of actual ad deliveries. (The networks first began negotiating against C7 deliveries five years after the original currency was adopted.)
In accordance with the prevailing dynamic that sees the rich get richer while the poor go hungry, the shows that already do well in the context of the unadorned live-same-day ratings are the ones that tend to enjoy the biggest gains in C3/C7. Take for example NBC's Kleenex-depleting drama "This Is Us," which already boasts the highest average live-same delivery (a 2.7 rating, or 3.5 million adults 18-to-49) of any scripted series on TV. Per the currency data, the multigenerational sudser gains another three-tenths of a point in C3 and six-tenths in C7. If you're a buyer who negotiated a $433,866 spot for your client in the Sept. 25 season premiere, you can rest easy knowing that more than 4.6 million members of your target demo watched that commercial within seven days of the original airdate.
As it happens, NBC this fall is on a bit of a tear. Not only does the network have bragging rights to primetime's No. 1 program in "Sunday Night Football" and the top scripted series in the aforementioned "This Is Us," but it has also developed the season's biggest new shows. The new drama "Manifest" has brought some much-needed fire to NBC's Monday 10 p.m. time slot, averaging a 2.6 in C3 and a 2.8 in C7, while Tuesday night's "This Is Us" lead-out, "New Amsterdam," is averaging a 2.0 in C3 and a 2.2 in C7. "Manifest" is also the biggest gainer on the chart, bolstering its original demo deliveries by an additional 1 million viewers upon conversion to C7.
"Manifest" also offers NBC a marked improvement over year-ago time slot occupant "The Brave." Through the first two weeks of the season, the "Lost"-in-reverse drama is up 87 percent in both C3 and C7 vs. the now-canceled "The Brave."
While the show that delivered the most delayed ad impressions last fall is contending with significant year-over-year ratings erosion, it is still getting a lot of help from the currency. ABC's "The Good Doctor" adds north of 900,000 advertiser-coveted viewers in C7, soaring from an average 1.2 rating in live-same-day to a 1.9, a gain of 58 percent. That said, having fallen 40 percent in C3/C7 vs. the opening weeks of its freshman season, "The Good Doctor" isn't exactly living up to buyers' expectations. In a pre-season survey, agency execs predicted that the ABC drama would close out the season as broadcast's fourth highest-rated scripted show; at this early juncture, "The Good Doctor" is not even in the top 10.
Other big gainers in C7 include Fox's returning drama "9-1-1," which improved 38 percent from a 1.6 live-same-day average to a 2.2 in C3; the CBS comedy "Mom," up 30 percent in the net's target demo (adults 25-to-54) and NBC's "Chicago P.D.," which thus far has seen its deliveries rise 42 percent in C7.
(Procedural note: Because it takes Nielsen approximately 21 days to process the first batch of currency data, the relevant deliveries for the Oct. 16 series premiere of the "Roseanne" spinoff "The Conners" are currently unavailable.)
For all the shows that have shown not-insignificant gains upon conversion to the C7 currency, a number of one-time heavy hitters are no longer notching the disproportionate commercial ratings increases of years past. Fox's "Empire," which two years ago bolstered its live-same-day premiere deliveries by a full ratings point, now wins back half that amount of commercial views. NBC's "Will & Grace" has experienced a similar winnowing in its C7 deliveries, gaining three-tenths of a point in the expanded currency compared to its year-ago boost of eight-tenths.
While it's understandable that the networks don't want anyone outside TV's transaction triangle to have access to the C3/C7 data, the bloated live-3/live-7 program ratings distributed to the press are wholly irrelevant to advertisers. For example, while network PR touted the 62 percent demo lift the Oct. 3 episode of NBC's "Chicago Fire" earned in playback (the Dick Wolf drama grew from a 1.3 in live-same to a 2.1 in live-7), those delayed views didn't have near as much impact on the episode's commercial ratings. Per Nielsen, that particular installment of "Chicago Fire" only inched up to a 1.4 in C7, which amounts to an 8 percent gain. In other words, of the 1 million people in the demo who caught up with the show within seven days of its original airdate, only 129,000 actually watched the ads in playback.
As much as the marginal gains in delayed commercial deliveries can help extend the life of a series and justify a higher unit cost, the devolution of live scripted-series viewing is making it more difficult for the networks to meet advertisers' expectations. Agency execs believe that more than three-quarters of the people who watch TV on their own schedule zip or zap through the ads, and it's unlikely that such avoidance behaviors will be unlearned. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.