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More Fun with Numbers: Thanksgiving Redux

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December 3rd, 2007

I really enjoy James Hibberd's columns in TV Week. He also has a column called "Rated" that runs in Advertising Age. In the Ad Age column from 11/30/07, Hibberd has some interesting insights into why CBS and ABC aired new episodes of CSI and Grey's Anatomy on Thanksgiving night (see "From the ‘Rated' Mailbag"). In addition to desire to win the November sweeps, Hibberd pointed out that those shows aired the night before the all important Black Friday and speculated the ratings hit was worth the cost. I'm not sure that's correct though - seemingly it would only be correct if the advertisers were paying roughly a 50% premium for ratings points that night. Anyone who knows whether that's the case, please chime in. Hibberd also speculates (it was network wonks doing the speculating/spinning, not Hibberd, my bad) that DVR usage for those episodes will be huge. The nature of the beast is that we won't have that data until next Monday, but here, I will go out on a limb and predict Hibberd's the wonks prediction of huge DVR numbers will fall short. Week in, week out, this season about 3.7 million to 4.1 million people watch Grey's Anatomy via their DVRs. The Grey's Anatomy episode that aired the week prior to Thanksgiving (11/15) had 21.67 million viewers on a LIVE+7 basis, including 3.99 million who watched on their DVRs within a week's time. On a LIVE basis, that episode of Grey's racked up 17.68 million viewers, and on a LIVE+SD (same day DVR usage) it was 19.61 million viewers.

What we can conclude from this was at least in a normal week, ~50% of the Grey's Anatomy viewers who watched on DVR, still watched on Thursday night, just on a time-shifted basis. We don't have the LIVE+7 results for Grey'Anatomy's 11/22 airing yet and we won't until next Monday (12/10), but I'm willing to go out on a limb and predict Hibberd the network wonks are off-base in predicting "huge" results for Grey's DVR usage for the 11/22 episode. On a LIVE basis, that episode pulled 12.87 million people and on a LIVE+SD basis, 14.11 million. It won't surprise me at all to find out that this episode had many more viewers who watched later in the week than they normally would, but if the overall number of DVR users increases much at all, I will be surprised. Why? Because presumably most of the people who DVR Grey's are already doing so. Grey's DVR usage would have to increase more than 25% to get to even 5 million DVR viewers for that week. I think that is in the realm of possibility, but Grey's #'s were off by about 5 million viewers that week -one million or so extra DVR viewers wouldn't make up for it. And although I think getting a million more DVR users than normal is in the realm of possibility, I would be pretty surprised (though not shocked) to find out that there are a million Grey's fans with DVRs who choose regularly to watch it LIVE anyway.

My prediction is that it will turn out that around 4.3 million people watched the 11/22 episode of Grey's on DVR or only about 300K more people than the prior week (~8% increase), but hardly HUGE numbers relative to other episodes. If it's more than 4.8 million DVR viewers, lunch is on TVbytheNumbers the next time Mr. Hibberd is in San Francisco (we'll buy him lunch anyway for incorrectly attributing him with this prediction!!).

Even that wouldn't really be huge in light of the ratings hit the show took Thanksgiving night, but it would mean there are a about a million people who love Grey's Anatomy so much they typically watch it live even though they have a DVR. While I think that's definitely possible, I doubt it.We'll know for sure by the afternoon of 12/10, check back then.

Update 12/10: well the results are in, and even my smallish ~8% increase was off the mark. Both Grey's Anatomy and CSI had less DVR viewing than they had the week prior to Thanksgiving. While we still can't say whether this was a purely bonheaded move by the network execs at CBS and ABC, we can predict that Hibberd will adjust his prognosticating accordingly we can predict that I will never again attribute to Hibberd prognostications that were not his!

I think there are a couple of things we can conclude, one definitively and one more speculatively based: 1. For shows not in their first season, the DVR audience is the DVR audience and doesn't change dramatically based on normal episodes. Sure, if Oprah is going to show up on Grey's Anatomy more people might DVR that episode, but generally speaking, the numbers are fairly consistent.2. People don't watch every show they DVR (not speculative) and in special circumstances like Thanksgiving night, the DVR viewing tail may be longer and have more viewers who are watching outside of 7 days. For all we know (speculative at best) viewers who missed the Thanksgiving episodes and knew that the airings on 11/29 were repeats might have saved up episodes from 11/22 and viewed them on 11/29. Those numbers would not be counted in the LIVE+7.

 
  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    I completely agree. +10% in DVR viewing is a reasonable guess, the huge numbers are highly unlikely. We'll know in a week.

    I don't understand why they burned those new episodes on a low viewership night either, but if I HAD to go out on a limb, it might have been an entirely non-economic decision to boost good will to advertisers.

    The conventional wisdom is that advertisers are freaking out about the potential for ratings decline as the strike continues, maybe this was a bone ABC could throw now, during an important part of the selling season, that may yield dividends in advertiser attitude later.

    Or it might just have been a really bad decision.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    I completely agree. +10% in DVR viewing is a reasonable guess, the huge numbers are highly unlikely. We’ll know in a week.

    I don’t understand why they burned those new episodes on a low viewership night either, but if I HAD to go out on a limb, it might have been an entirely non-economic decision to boost good will to advertisers.

    The conventional wisdom is that advertisers are freaking out about the potential for ratings decline as the strike continues, maybe this was a bone ABC could throw now, during an important part of the selling season, that may yield dividends in advertiser attitude later.

    Or it might just have been a really bad decision.

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