Patrick Keane who's a vice president and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for CBS Interactive - CBS' online division, wants combined ratings for television and online viewing. So do I, so does Nielsen. Who doesn't want that?
While I will usually (ok, always) be snarky with the likes of Les Moonves and Jeff Zucker, when it comes to their underlings I try to go for a little less snarking. Picking on the network heads is as fair game as saying "James Dolan has done an awful job with the New York Knicks but he has so much money, it just doesn't matter."
If Moonves and Zucker were playing for Major League Baseball, where if you get a hit 3 out of 10 times, you're great - I might look at them differently. But, let's face it, if the TV business truly got tracked statistically like MLB, Moonves and Zucker wouldn't crack the Mendoza Line (2 hits out of 10 at bats) and would be sent to the minors. It's way more than a little bit like the problem with the Dolans and the Knicks. The networks make so, so much money that it is not a requirement to actually optimize or be as good as you can be in your job. As long as the money is rolling in, who cares? Unless advertisers say, "No, you know what, we won't pay you for 5 million viewers as much as we paid you for 15 million ten years ago. We won't do it!" nothing much is going to change. There's no real incentive.
I have to give the networks credit for being able to make lemonade out of the lemons that is today's broadcast primetime landscape. But the Dolan-esque aspects are not lost on me.
Patrick Keane is a different story. If I worked at CBS, the only group I'd want to work for would be the interactive division. Why? It's simple: it's more than theoretically a GROWTH business. Online viewing of content will grow and grow. Broadcast network primetime is not a growth business. It's a diminishing business that has been on a downward spiral for over 25 years.
But I understand about the M in CMO, and so while I won't be snarky with Patrick, I will set the record a little straighter than it was set in the Media Daily piece, where at least a little, he talked out of both sides of his mouth. Keane claims that online viewing is additive - that CBS isn't cannibalizing the broadcast network viewers with its online viewing, that it's all in addition.
That's not quite true. While it's not a zero sum game between CBS viewing and CBS online viewing, TIME is a zero sum game. At some point, the more time you spend watching shows online has to cut into watching the shows via traditional means. Moreover, when you count online ratings for one, you count them for all, and when you do that, things will not likely change much.
Not changing much is not the same as not changing at all, and we can see from the LIVE+7 numbers(live plus seven days of DVR viewing) that some shows outperform their normal ratings disproportionately when it comes to DVR viewing. With less than half the viewers of American Idol, LOST is getting more DVR viewing. The same is true, for a show like Jericho, which wasn't even one of CBS' top 20 primetime shows last week, but gets a higher percentage of DVR viewing.
While I won't be snarky with Mr. Keane, I believe he and CBS Interactive missed an opportunity to try to do something really special with Jericho. They didn't do anything really special, they put it up in the same way they put up video for Survivor: Micronesia (which I'm sure is also popular online). If they'd have done something truly unique or truly interesting, I'd at least give them credit for trying. I can't say for certain they didn't bother because they didn't think it was worth it, but on the other hand - they didn't bother to do anything unique with Jericho. Keane notes that if you add in the online viewing (I believe for the premiere of season 2) Jericho goes from a 4.2 to a 5.1 household rating.
How important is that? Media Daily and the Industry Standard would have you believe it's really important. I don't think it is. Why? Because a 5.1 isn't very good. If you add in live, plus DVR, plus online viewing....it still less than the 6.9 a rerun of NCIS did last night (yes, a rerun!) or a rerun of Law & Order:SVU that pulled a 6.8 up against Jericho at 10pm. (Yes, a rerun!).
I'm all for the combined numbers. I think they will change the perspective of some shows, but on a guess it would improve LOST's numbers more than Jericho. The problem with Jericho is that when you add everything up, it does underperform reruns of NCIS and Law & Order. What this tells us mostly is that there's opportunity to produce content that even in reruns does better than a new episode of Jericho. I understand there are a variety of reasons for that, but if I am a network, I'm definitely thinking, "Yeah, we need to get rid of stuff that doesn't perform well ratings wise to have the chance to find the next thing that will get a 6.8 in reruns." Even when you include DVR viewing, online viewing, iTunes, or whatever else - sadly, there is no case to be made on this basis.
I don't fault Mr. Keane for trying to bring attention to the interactive business. I do find fault for not attempting anything special with Jericho and then trying to use it as a basis for getting combined ratings based on any venue someone is watching programming. I blame him because you can't both say, "we're not going to do anything special", and then say, "but this is a special case where the ratings would be higher", without adding, "...but not so much of a special case because added all together it would still underperform a rerun of NCIS."
But that's what we're here for. I'm not picking on Jericho, or CBS. But the numbers simply don't add up. Even if you include the online numbers. Why Mr. Keane would pick that as an example of why embracing change is necessary is curious. But I agree regardless, that we need to embrace the change.
The picture above is from Mr. Keane's Facebook profile.