Beyond Nielsen: A New Rating for TV Shows
TV ratings have been the gospel for the broadcasting and ad industries for nearly 60 years. They are the yardstick by which our business has determined success or failure; the reason why "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" was canceled, why Fox loves Simon Cowell and why the Super Bowl continues to be the most important TV event every year.
However, as we begin to turn our attention to this year's upfront market, the question we find ourselves asking is, Do TV ratings still stand up as a reliable and usable measure that advertisers, agencies and broadcasters need to make the right investment decisions? In a multiplatform, digital media world where engagement is as important as headcount, it's time to think about a different currency.
TV just isn't TV anymore
Last week, Optimedia published its top 100 regular season shows on TV in 2007 based on a new ratings system -- the Content Power Rating. We chose to go beyond TV ratings to evaluate a show's true market value in terms of total audience size, value of PR and buzz, and program appeal. Our Content Power Rating, we think, better reflects where today's business is: Audience beyond TV, and appeal beyond ratings.
They say that TV isn't what it used to be, and that certainly rings true. Networks have expanded their content beyond telecast into multiplatforms that reflect the widening berth of TV's landscape and the desire to capture audiences when consumers want to access them, in the format they choose. Last year saw all the major networks truly integrate digital within their program sell. NBC kicked off last year's upfront week by proclaiming full immersion at the heart of its 360-degree strategy. ABC announced "ABC Start Here" -- its first-ever network-wide, multiplatform branding initiative. CBS, Fox and the CW all followed suit with their takes on cross-platform solutions. These additional platforms are adding growing audience and assets that advertisers want.
We buy shows, not ratings
In Europe, advertisers buy ratings. In the U.S., we buy shows. TV buying in Europe has largely become a commodity, a mechanism to deliver an audience for advertising messages. A U.K. marketing director rarely questions the programs they are in, just the ratings, the reach and cost per thousand. Media auditors regularly track media buyers on prices paid and level of discount. Where the U.S. differs from its European counterparts is that here, TV is rightfully more than just a ratings number. Each program also includes sponsorship, integration and promotional opportunities as important parts of the buying consideration. This is not the case in Europe, because in many TV markets, the regulations restricting branded entertainment, sponsorship and product placement are so draconian that you are limited to literally buying the audience that is in the commercial break. Readers here might be amused to learn that in the U.K. televised edition of "American Idol," the Coca-Cola branded tumblers that Randy Jackson drinks from are digitally removed from the show.
For U.S. advertisers and networks, quality does count and has a value. The show is a brand in its own right, and it is worth something for a marketer's brands to be associated with. We know there is a difference between spots during "Desperate Housewives" vs. "Real Housewives of Orange County." Our own research at Optimedia shows that advertising effectiveness in high quality programming on average delivers 44% higher ad recall than in low quality shows.
Over the decades, 20-30 ratings gave way to 2-3 ratings that reflected growing industry competition and consumers splintered by choice. Mass marketing (and similarly, mass ratings) has given way to more targeted and sophisticated approaches.
Engagement: our staple currency
Despite TV CPMs increasing year after year, advertising recall of TV commercials has been in steady decline. In some estimates, TV advertising is eight times less efficient in the '00s as it was in the '60s. Engagement is of equal importance to TV ratings. We know from our own analysis of the market that program appeal and engagement are more likely to drive greater ad awareness and response. Yet TV ratings alone fail to address this need.
This is why we developed the Content Power Rating. This is the first and most comprehensive survey of its kind that ranks network and cable programs size across broadcast TV, web, online video and mobile; its value in terms of PR and word-of-mouth buzz; and audience appeal. The purpose of this report is to provide an independent assessment of a TV program's true commercial value and footprint. Content Power Ratings is a currency to value TV shows for networks, producers, advertisers and sponsors.
The Content Power Rating system has allowed us to uncover important insights that are not visible using TV ratings alone. For example, while reality programs have their share of criticism, we've found that a show whose viewers have a stake in the show or its contestants enjoys a more engaged and regular audience. Indeed, "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars" clearly rated No. 1 and No. 2 in our report, in part due to the audience size but also due to the level of participation in the show, their web presence and buzz. The high viewer involvement in shows like "Heroes," "The Office" and "30 Rock" helped them to gain a much higher ranking than the TV ratings alone justified.
It makes sense the networks are leveraging the opportunity presented when consumers increasingly access and interact with the content in different places. This is creating a new economy for TV. There's no question that digital platforms are increasingly valuable to advertisers. So too is the interest and appeal that a program generates. This is why we've chosen to measure all these aspects in our clients' upfront planning.
OPTIMEDIA CONTENT POWER RATINGS TOP 20
Note: The Optimedia Content Power Ratings are developed by collecting and analyzing data from Optimedia's own primary research, as well as data collected by Nielsen Media Research's NTI database; comScore's Media Metrix; mobile audience data based on publicly available penetration/usage figures; e-Poll's FastTrack; Keller Fay Group's TalkTrack; and Factiva, from Dow Jones.