Viewers may be consuming more content overall, but live ratings and the commercial ratings that form the currency of the business continue to fall at the broadcast networks.
Live viewing at CBS, Fox, NBC, My Network TV and The CW was down 7-10% through mid-January, while C3 numbers were down 5-8%, according to a report from Los Angeles based ad agency RPA
In the 18-49 year old demographic, combined live viewing was down 10%, while the C3 numbers were down only 8%. In total viewers, live viewing was off 7%, while C3 was down 5%.
The report reads, “There was a big positive to come out of the first half ratings and one that could augur well for the future. C3 viewing equaled or slightly surpassed live viewing, meaning not only a larger audience but an audience that data suggests is extremely engaged.”
The sentiment of that last paragraph is being heavily pushed by the TV advertising crowd, but to me, it's sort of a bad Jedi mind trick: the ratings are not as bad as they look! Unfortunately for the sales crowd, the Force is not with them. The ratings are exactly as bad as they look!
Is it really a silver lining that commercial viewing with 3 days worth of DVR viewing didn't drop quite as much as live program viewing? Perhaps, but it seems like even in that rose colored word, there is but a sliver of silver because either way the numbers for both programming and commercial viewing are down. Down is bad. Commercial viewing being down less than live viewing is merely not as bad. But not as bad is still bad, which isn't good.
Remember, these comparisons are a bit apples-to-pears because they are comparing live program ratings to commercial ratings viewed live and including 3 days of DVR viewing (C3). To get a very accurate idea of how much the commercial ratings improve due to the DVR viewing we'd need to see live commercial viewing numbers (which I have never seen) compared to C3. Based on the anecodtal data, including the data cited above, there doesn't seem like there is that much improvement.
If live program viewing was down 5% with 18-49s, and C3 was not down at all? That would be a rosier story to tell. But down 5% versus down 7% doesn't seem like a big deal even if it could be (and likely will be) spun into a press release saying "commercial viewing outperforming program viewing by 29%!"