One TV show had a higher rating – so change the ratings

Nielsen will change how they measure TV viewing as ratings continue to drop:

Despite the May axing of 19 first-year series and such surprise dumpings as ABC’s Castle and Nashville, cancellations are proving rarer, even as linear ratings shrink. That’s because, of the 60 returning scripted series to air on the five main broadcast networks this season, only one finished with improved ratings from the previous year. And that show premiered in the ’90s. Law & Order: SVU‘s modest gain, up an incremental 4 percent during its 17th cycle, is a case study in how the industry standard week of DVR and on-demand views doesn’t provide the most complete narrative any longer — or at least not one that the networks are eager to tell.

“We have found that audiences continue to grow beyond seven days in every instance, some by 58 percent among adults 18-to-49,” says Nielsen audience insights senior vp Glenn Enoch. “Growth after seven days is consistent, but the rate of growth varies by genre. Some programs need to be viewed in the week they air, while consumers use on-demand libraries to view others over time, like animated comedies and episodic dramas.”

To that end, on Aug. 29, Nielsen will up the turnaround on live-plus-7-day reporting (no more 15-day wait time), offering daily rolling on time-shifting, and it will start extending the tail past the long-established extra week of views. The measurement giant announced in March that the window for regularly reported on-demand and DVR data now will extend to 35 days after the original airdate.

The extra draw between weeks two and five is not minor for many scripted series. Grey’s Anatomy, again ABC’s highest-rated drama in its 12th season, saw its live-plus-7 average in the key demographic drop 3 percent from the previous season. But the 35-day trail of VOD (with online streams) adds another 1.5 rating points among 18-to-49, making for a 6 percent improvement from the show’s 11th season. (Of note: 1.5 is the complete live-plus-7-day rating for Thursday neighbor and surprise renewal The Catch.)

Certainly viewing habits have changed in recent years as viewing options proliferate. But, it is hard also not to see this as an attempt to chase numbers to provide advertisers (which leads to more money). If only one show showed an improvement from the past season (and a Law & Order in its 17th season), change the system of measurement. Perhaps this is the true acknowledgment that television will never be the same: the best solution to declining ratings is not to put together better content or to put together a new consolidated model but rather to chase viewers to all ends of the earth.

New data collection tool: the ever-on smartphone microphone

One company is using the microphone in smartphones to figure out what people are watching on TV:

TV news was abuzz Thursday morning after Variety reported on a presentation by Alan Wurtzel, a president at NBCUniversal, who said that streaming shows weren’t cutting into broadcast television viewership to the degree that much of the press seems to believe. Mr. Wurtzel used numbers that estimated viewership using data gathered by mobile devices that listened to what people were watching and extrapolating viewership across the country…

The company behind the technology is called Symphony Advanced Media. The Observer spoke to its CEO Charles Buchwalter, about how it works, via phone. “Our entire focus is to add insights and perspectives on an entire new paradigm around how consumers are consuming media across  platforms,” he told the Observer…

Symphony asks those who opt in to load Symphony-branded apps onto their personal devices, apps that use microphones to listen to what’s going on in the background. With technology from Gracenote, the app can hear the show playing and identify it using its unique sound signature (the same way Shazam identifies a song playing over someone else’s speakers). Doing it that way allows the company to gather data on viewing of sites like Netflix and Hulu, whether the companies like it or not. (Netflix likes data)

It uses specific marketing to recruit “media insiders” into its system, who then download its app (there’s no way for consumers to get it without going through this process). In exchange, it pays consumers $5 in gift cards (and up) per month, depending on the number of devices he or she authorizes.

The undertone of this reporting is that there are privacy concerns lurking around the corner. Like the video camera now built into most laptops, tablets, and smartphones that might be turned on by nefarious people, most of these devices also have microphones that could be utilized by others.

Yet, as noted here, there is potential to gather data through opt-in programs. Imagine a mix between survey and ethnographic data where an opt-in program can get an audio sense of where the user is. Or record conversations to examine both content and interaction patterns. Or to look at the noise levels people are surrounded by. Or to simply capture voice responses to survey questions that might allow respondents to provide more details (because they are able to interact with the question more as well as because their voice patterns might also provide insights).

After 6 days of production, Utopia contestants can’t agree on much

One week into production of Fox’s new reality TV show Utopia, the participants are having a hard time moving forward:

Utopia, Fox’s new reality series in which a group of people are put into a bare-bones camp in a remote location north of Los Angeles County to form a new society and “rethink all the fundamental tenets of civilization,” hasn’t even debuted yet and already the natives — who’ve been there less than a week — are at war with each other.

“Coming to the most basic decisions has been next to impossible for them” just six days into the experiment, EP Jon Kroll said this afternoon on a phone call with the media and Fox EVP Simon Andreae. “Agreeing on anything” is the Utopians’ biggest challenge to date. “I almost think we cast it too well,” Kroll said happily. “They are so incredibly different that coming to the most basic decisions has been next to impossible for them.” A week into the yearlong experiment, there already has been a movement by some in Utopia to secede from the union.

Already, many of the males in Utopia are battling for alpha-dog status, though one of the women is giving them a good run, according to the execs on the call, which comes ahead of Sunday’s two-hour series premiere. And if you guessed it was Hex, described by the show as a “headstrong hunter … six feet of twisted steel and sex appeal” whose “primary game is to bring lessons from Utopia back to Detroit, her hometown” where her status is “unemployed” — you get extra points for understanding the wonderful world of stereotyping that is reality TV casting.

The internecine warfare has been captured on cameras since the Utopians arrived at their new home six days ago – like C-SPAN. Except, of course, when Hex got whisked to the hospital last weekend, for what turned out to be a case of dehydration. That was off limits for viewing by even the experiment’s 24/7 livestream — which already is up and running — because the network and producers didn’t know if her condition was serious, Kroll explained. “We just want to be careful,” he said.

Hard to know how much of this is just hyperbole from studio executives who want big ratings when the show debuts.

Yet, this may have some potential as a reality-TV version of Lord of the Flies. What happens when you put a diverse group of modern-day Americans in a situation where they need to create things from scratch? They have all sorts of learned notions about society and how life should be lived but will be applying them in a new context. However, given the nature of reality TV, it is hard to know how much of the situation on-screen is engineered by producers. I, for one, would want producers to take a more hands-off approach and see what happens but I imagine they will be unwilling to do that, particularly if ratings need a boost.

A side thought: how far away are we from a TV version of The Hunger Games?

NBC: social media use driven by popular TV shows, not the other way around

The Financial Times reports that after studying media habits related to its Olympic coverage, NBC found less social media activity linked to television broadcasts than might have been expected. In other words, it isn’t apparent that people tune into television programs because they see activity about it on social media. At stake is a lot of advertising money.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. From its early days, one of the major critiques of television was that it encouraged passivity: people generally sat on the couch in their private homes watching a screen. While they may have had conversations about TV with others (and a lot of this has moved online – just see how many sites have Game of Thrones recaps each week), television watching was a limited social activity practiced alone, with family, or close friends. Whether social media changes this fundamental posture in watching television remains to be seen.

Claim: end of urban friends TV shows, revival of happy suburban McMansion shows

With the end of “How I Met Your Mother,” one critic argues TV shows have moved on to happy suburban McMansions and darker shows about urban singles:

The series is among the last of a vanishing breed, the romantic comedy about well-educated, pop culturally attuned young white people trying to find love and sex in the city as they embark on their careers and independent lives. Such sitcoms proliferated after “Friends” became a huge hit for NBC in the 1990s.

But since ABC struck gold with “Modern Family,” networks have traded the urban coffee shops and bars for the suburban McMansion. TV comedies that explore the dating lives of young people now tend to be a lot darker than “How I Met Your Mother.” Take, for instance, HBO’s “Girls,” where the sex is graphic — and often soul-crushing for the characters.

Such a claim might sound true – but where is the data to back this up? Later in the article:

But that distinctive [storytelling] approach may have come at a price. “It’s that kind of innovation that never makes it to huge ratings heights of the good, old-fashioned sitcom,” Thompson said. “They’re very post-modern characters, so steeped in the irony and cynicism of the ’90s they grew up in, that sometimes it’s kind of hard to like them.”

Indeed, “HIMYM” never cracked even the Top 40 in total viewers, consistently averaging around 9 million or so over the course of its run, according to Nielsen. Yet it still occupied an important role for CBS, which is the most-watched network in the U.S. but often has trouble attracting young adults.

So no data on the number of shows with each genre or kind of storyline (young, happy singles vs. suburban McMansion dwelling families vs. unhappy urban singles) and then another knock against HIMYM and “Girls” and similar shows: they often don’t draw big ratings. So, while critics might like these shows (and critics might live in an alternate universe , how many of them are popular? Check out the Nielsen Top 25 for the week ending March 23, 2014: I don’t know all of these shows that well but I don’t see too many suburban McMansions. The suburbs are a common theme on television shows with a long history, dating back to the happy family shows of the 1950s. Yet, they don’t necessarily draw big ratings or the positive attention of critics even if they seem to be fodder for cancellations when the new crop of shows are rolled out each fall.

Nielsen reports a drop in American household TV ownership in America

A new report from Nielsen suggests fewer American households have televisions:

The Nielsen Company, which takes TV set ownership into account when it produces ratings, will tell television networks and advertisers on Tuesday that 96.7 percent of American households now own sets, down from 98.9 percent previously.

There are two reasons for the decline, according to Nielsen. One is poverty: some low-income households no longer own TV sets, most likely because they cannot afford new digital sets and antennas.

The other is technological wizardry: young people who have grown up with laptops in their hands instead of remote controls are opting not to buy TV sets when they graduate from college or enter the work force, at least not at first. Instead, they are subsisting on a diet of television shows and movies from the Internet.

Nielsen suggests that affordability is really behind this drop in TV set ownership. But of consumer goods that are truly American, isn’t having a television at the top of the list? More than owning a car or a home (granted, these are more expensive) or a radio or a microwave (a lower ownership rate than TVs according to this), the television is a critical part of average American life. And with all of the purchases in recent years of nicer TV sets (LCD, plasma, 3D, LED, digital tuners), there are plenty of older TVs laying out or available for a low price at garage sales, consignment shops, and on Craigslist.

It makes sense that Nielsen is very interested in these figures. Nielsen’s methodology may not seem important to some people but these ratings are incredibly important for the TV industry. These ratings help set advertising rates which drive the industry and dictate which shows survive on the air and which do not. If ratings go up (whether that is because the show is more popular or because Nielsen can show that more people watch it), then networks can ask for more money.

If household TV ownership rates keep dropping, how might this affect the TV industry and TV networks?

Study from sociologist helps prompt creation of espnW

ESPN’s coverage of sports is dominated by male sports. But a study released this summer, co-authored by a sociologist at USC, has prompted ESPN to start moving toward a new sports channel devoted to women’s sports:

In June, Messner co-authored a study for the Center for Feminist Research at USC that revealed how media giants, especially ESPN, were starving women’s sports coverage. As a result, ESPN is launching a brand-new channel, called espnW, that is marketed specifically toward women. The channel will launch online this fall, with the possibility of becoming a television channel in the spring.

Messner’s study found that ESPN’s flagship program SportsCenter devoted only 1.4 percent of its coverage to women’s sports last year, as opposed to 2.1 percent in 2004. It also found 96.3 percent of the lead stories on SportsCenter and on KNBC’s, KCBS’ and KABC’s sports news segments came from men’s sports.

Messner is not necessarily thrilled with this outcome as she thinks that it might mean that ESPN will never cover women’s sports on its main networks.

What kind of ratings would a channel like this receive? Even though women make a good percentage of fans for the major sports (“44 perfect for the NFL fans, 36 percent for the NBA and 45 percent for the MLB”), women’s sports have had difficulty drawing substantial television ratings. The article suggests the channel is intended to cultivate a broader female sports audience for the future.