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Changes in viewing habits mean TV ratings must wait
First-night viewership just part of audience
Live-stream or on-demand figures aren’t immediately available from Nielsen, but CBS research shows they are growing quickly as options. The network’s consumer panel said 12 percent of people reported watching a show via online streaming this fall, up from 4 percent last year. The percentage of people watching shows on demand increased from 2 percent to 11 percent, he said.
Fox last year streamed episodes of “New Girl” online before the series premiered on the network, and that decision paid off: Word of mouth from people who had seen the show online gave the series strong ratings out of the box.
The network tried the same strategy this fall with “The Mindy Project” and “Ben & Kate,” but it didn’t work as well, said Joe Earley, the network’s chief operating officer. The premiere week live numbers appeared depressed because of people watching early.
Now Fox is trying to encourage more people to watch the show live.
“It’s almost like living in a parallel universe simultaneously,” Mr. Earley said “You’re constantly trying to reorient yourself on how this show is doing and how it is doing compared to the competition.”
Television’s current currency — the ratings figures used to set advertising rates — is how many people view a show’s commercials live or within three days. The seven-day rating provides a truer look at a show’s real popularity, but it takes Nielsen more than two weeks to compute those figures. Even then, more people are waiting for a full-season DVD to come out to catch up on a show, or stacking several episodes on their DVR and “binging” by watching them all at once.
Those all are factors to be considered when networks decide whether to move forward with a show. The networks also must consider whether a show is popular internationally. Whether or not a network owns a show also is figured in to the financial equation.
“It’s going to get more and more complicated,” Mr. Bader said.
Since the 1960s, the TV business has been oriented toward getting information on how a show is doing more and more quickly, Mr. Poltrack noted. Executives frequently would know before dawn the day after a show aired what kind of a future it would or would not have. Now, they often have to wait.
“Slowing down a little bit is not a bad thing,” he said. “We could all use a little bit of introspection. We could all spend a little less time processing and more time thinking.”
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