FX made clear it wants nothing to do with the old-fashioned standard of TV ratings. The cable network warned last month it would “no longer issue releases, analysis or comments” on what the industry terms “live + same day” ratings. It’s a measure of viewership on the day a particular show airs, excluding time-shifted viewers who might watch a recording days or even weeks later.
FX executives are admitting what everybody knows is true: One day’s worth of ratings does not fully capture a show’s audience. Here’s how the network behind Sons of Anarchy, American Horror Story, and Louie explained the decision:
“With the exception of sports, news and live events, Live+Same Day ratings no longer accurately reflect the audience delivery for a scripted entertainment program. …We believe they grossly mischaracterize the actual audience due to the multiple data streams and platforms. Therefore, our first acknowledgement of any ratings will be on a Live+3 basis and beyond.”
“Live+3” TV ratings, as the terms suggests, encompass the live audience as well as anyone watching within three days. This more expansive metric, which FX also described as flawed, raises the question of just how much viewership activity happens in a 72-hour span.
For help capturing the three-day audience, Bloomberg Businessweek turned to Ebiquity, a data-driven marketing firm whose entire business centers around optimizing ad dollars and measuring media viewership. Last year Ebiquity analyzed $20 billion of media spending and $18 billion of marketing spending.
First, take a look at the overall increase in ratings when shifting from a three-day window to a seven-day metric. It’s not much of a change. So the vast majority of recorded viewing within a week of broadcast tends to occur within three days. The average TV show experiences a 6.7 percent increase in ratings, measured over a three-day span instead of a single day. Enlarging the time frame to a week shows only a slightly larger 7.3 percent jump, compared to the first day.
Notice how the day of week matters. The pattern is very cyclical, peaking on Tuesday and bottoming out on Saturday. This means that shows scheduled to play on Tuesdays see the most pickup in digital video recording, while Saturday shows are skewed to live viewing.
P.J. Leary, Ebiquity’s executive director of media value measurement, sees the entire TV industry moving to the three-day measurement, known as C3. “Even though live ratings are still considered in the decision-making process, the vast majority of scripted inventory”—TV dramas and sitcoms—“is bought and sold on the basis of the C3 rating,” Leary said.
Sorted by channel, it’s also clear that the big broadcast networks lead the way in recorded audiences. The top networks average a 15 percent increase in audiences measured over the following week. As might be assumed from the tone of its announcement, FX is a leader among cable networks when it comes to people watching its shows at a later date. Its network sister, Fox, leads all broadcasters for recorded viewing; nearly 20 percent of the audience tunes in later.
At the absolute bottom of the list, with barely 2 percent extra viewership across a seven-day measurement, is the Weather Channel: Nobody a wants day-old forecast. And it’s worth noting that certain ad categories—movies, fast-food restaurants, retail—still emphasize live ratings because they benefit from timely purchases.
Focusing even more narrowly, consider only drama shows by channel. Here is where the big broadcasters—and once again, FX—really stand out. A seven-day measurement scores huge audience jumps over the first day—from 20 percent to as high as 50 percent.