The ratings rules of thumb are being 'timeshifted'

by Rick Kushman

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

26 April 2007

The Sopranos

The Sopranos

After three weeks, HBO’s “The Sopranos” is rocking. The stories have been twisted gems, filled with portent, mind games, hits and layers of tension. And ratings are down. Sort of.

Turns out, even one of TV’s towering shows in its final run is getting buffeted by the winds of technology. In fact, it may be precisely because it’s one of TV’s towering shows.

Last Sunday’s “Sopranos” episode drew 6.85 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. That’s almost 1 million fewer than the season opener.

But “The Sopranos” runs a handful of other times after the Sunday showing, plus people record it on their VCRs and DVRs. HBO says last season, the total viewing audience went up 46 percent through the week, which would actually bring current viewing to around 11 million.

Nielsen doesn’t track the repeat viewings through the week on pay cable, but a Nielsen report this week on DVR-recorded network shows gives HBO’s argument a lot of credibility.

In the report, Nielsen listed for the first time the top “timeshifted” series, and it showed two other things. Lots of people record shows and watch later, and the best and smartest stuff on TV is what gets recorded most.

For the week of April 2, Fox’s “House” got the most extra viewers, 2.7 million on top of the 19 million who watched live. ABC’s “Lost” was next, with 2.5 million added to its 10.8 million live viewers. Those were 14.4 percent and 22.8 percent gains, respectively.

NBC’s “The Office,” which had 1.8 million viewers watch the show on a DVR, had the biggest percentage of its audience - 31.5 percent - watching it timeshifted, while loads of other shows had more than 10 percent of their audience watching a recording.

So what does that all mean? I dunno. That’s the problem for the TV and advertising industries. No one is exactly sure how large the viewing audience really is, how valuable the ads are during all the viewings, whether ad rates should change and, basically, what the heck is going on.

What they do know is that the old-school measuring techniques are inaccurate. Nielsen is adding measurements of viewing in public places, and soon, a measure of ratings for the actual commercials. Then everyone will haggle over whether to charge and pay more, less or the same for advertising.

And what will that mean for viewers and their favorite shows? Probably a lot. But right now, it’s all a guess. And Tony Soprano thinks he has management issues.


Speaking of ads - and you might not buy this - according to the media agency MindShare, the amount of non-program time on the broadcast networks stayed about the same from 2005 to 2006.

That doesn’t mean that the total isn’t still big. The nets all spend about 15 minutes an hour on commercials, promos and the like during prime time, but only two networks, ABC and NBC, increased their totals in 2006, and not by much.

ABC had the most non-program time per hour, at 15:38, 12 seconds more than in 2005. Next came NBC, with 14:58 non-program time, then Fox (14:40) and CBS (13:51).

For the record, when you add in the show openings and closings, network hour dramas have fewer than 44 minutes of actual show time, and comedies get fewer than 22 minutes. On the plus side, if you record shows and skip the ads, look how much time you can save.

Cable nets were a bit higher, and MTV had the most non-programming minutes with 16:09, followed by USA (15:48), Lifetime (15:47) and Discovery (15:40).

The biggest reason there wasn’t much of an increase among the big broadcasters seems connected to a general flatness in the TV advertising market, but you’d like to think it also had something to do with network programmers realizing that, at some point, too many commercials will chase viewers away. But, probably, it’s that first thing.


Now this is a good one, but I’m also a fan of National Talk-Like-a-Pirate Day. Mark Burnett, creator of “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” has a new show coming to CBS on May 31 called “Pirate Master.”

The show will put 16 contestants on a 179-foot sailing ship, and for 33 days, have them live like buccaneers. Sort of, anyway. They’ll sail around the Caribbean, looking for $1 million in hidden treasures, and whoever finds the most, wins. Plus, there will be a Pirates Court, where each week, some landlubber will have to walk the plank. Or maybe just leave.

Yes, of course this is just “Survivor” with a “Pirates of the Caribbean” twist. Substitute “challenges” for “treasure hunts,” and Tribal Council for Pirates Court, and it’s the same game, except the promos will have someone saying, “Arrrgh.” For what it’s worth, I’m good with that. Who doesn’t like pirates?


Finally, in today’s cool-charity item, the producers and cast of Fox’s “House” are showing a bit more social conscience than Dr. Gregory House by raising money for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a respected organization that helps the mentally ill live better lives.

They’re selling T-shirts with Dr. House’s signature philosophy in front: “Everybody lies.” The shirts are $19.95 and can be found at www.housecharitytees.com.

Topics: hbo | sopranos | tv ratings
//Mixed media