Rethinking the overnights

Could FX’s decision to abandon traditional TV currency usher in a new era for ratings?

For years, “the overnights” have been the de facto currency for the TV business, their numbers determining the allocation of billions of advertising dollars.

FX TK John Landgraf (Photo: Angela George via Creative Commons)

FX president John Landgraf (Photo: Angela George via Creative Commons)

But as viewers have become less reliant on appointment TV, broadcasters are growing increasingly concerned the overnights no longer reflect true viewing habits. More consumers are recording a show to watch later or watching via alternative sources – viewing that is not captured in the overnight numbers.

In what could prove to be a landmark decision in the world of TV ratings, U.S. broadcaster FX Networks announced last week that it would stop publicizing overnight numbers.

There will be no breathless press releases touting last night’s performance of its vampire drama The Strain, as the network opts to use live plus three-day delivery numbers.

FX president John Landgraf was quoted in press reports as saying that the overnights not only fail to capture true audience information, but can provide misleading information.

Recent overnight ratings for the FX show Tyrant, for example, suggested that viewership among younger viewers declined 13% from the premiere episode. But Nielsen three-day viewing numbers show a 9% increase.

Canadian broadcasters like CTV share similar concerns about the efficacy of overnight ratings. Perry MacDonald, vice-president of CTV conventional sales, told Marketing this week that the broadcaster is “increasingly concerned” about the use of overnight data, which can lead to “misperceptions of actual performance” among the media and, more importantly, marketers.

Scott Henderson, vice-president of communications for CTV parent Bell Media, said that the use of overnight numbers can be especially “challenging” for broadcasters from a communications perspective.

While overnight numbers showed that Monday’s episode of The Listener on CTV garnered 825,000 viewers, for example, Henderson said that the number will “almost certainly” climb with live +7-day numbers.

He said that overnight audiences for The Amazing Race Canada are experiencing a lift of up to 35% when factoring in live +7-day numbers.

By the time that data is made available two weeks later, however, another episode of the show will have aired and any story about ratings success will have gone cold, said Henderson.

Over at Rogers, Tyrant airings on FX Canada with +7-day numbers see a lift of 43% on average.

Rogers’ senior vice-president of media sales, Jack Tomik, said the company will continue to make both sets of ratings available, but that “what an individual broadcaster chooses to comment on in terms of overnight versus live +3 data will always vary from situation to situation based on the product mix they offer.”

Commenting on the recent FX announcement out of the U.S., Tomik said it “clearly acknowledges the importance of audience delivery across multiple screens, which for broadcasters has become increasingly vital for the accurate measurement of scripted series.”

He continued, “Overnights, however, will always remain relevant for the industry when measuring live events, and with the increased focus on live event programming for the upcoming City fall schedule, overnights will continue to remain an important measurement of success for us at Rogers.”

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