NBC's Head of Research Reveals Data About Online Viewing & Argues that More People Are Watching 'Parks & Recreation' Than the Ratings Indicate

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July 13th, 2014

Parks and Recreation March 6

For the past few years, networks have been touting the point-of-view that Live +Same Day ratings are now less than important than Live +Seven and that Nielsen ratings do not adequately measure the rapidly changing ways that viewers are consuming television. At the network's TCA panels, NBC's President of Research & Media Development Alan Wurtzel made a compelling case that far more people watch NBC programming than the current ratings reflect.

Five years ago, eighty three percent of television programs were watched live. Today, only sixty one percent are. That's not a surprise, given the proliferation of DVRs. Wurtzel pointed out that lots of viewers watch previously recording programs during primetime. In fact, DVR playbacks  average a 1.4 adults 18-49 rating during primetime, meaning that DVR playback is essentially an invisible additional broadcast network.

VOD watching is rapidly increasing as technology improves. It grew twenty three percent from 2012 to 2013. Three quarters of U.S. households watch VOD at least once a week, and NBC's internal research reveals that eighty seven percent of viewers reported discovering new programs through watching them on VOD, making VOD an important promotional platform for both broadcast and cable networks.

Mobile viewing, which is defined as watching on either a smart phone or tablet, is also rapidly increasing. Twenty percent of the viewers between the ages of 18-64 that NBC surveyed had viewed a program via smart phone within the previous week. Fifty four percent of households with a tablet had viewed either a TV program or movie via tablet within the past week. However, streaming is still a small piece of the viewing pie, accounting for an average of eight hours a month of viewing. The term "mobile viewing" is somewhat of a misnomer. Contrary to all the smart phone ads that show people watching TV on their phones while doing things like skateboarding down hills, sixty one percent of mobile viewing happens in the home. Mobile viewing also spikes after 10:30PM, contrary to television viewing which declines after 10PM. In other words, people are curling up in bed with their tablets.

The stereotypical mobile television viewer is a millenial, or as Wurtzel put it, people who wear black and live in Williamsburg. In fact, all age groups are now streaming programs and have now embraced internet culture. In the television research equivalent of Michael Apted's Seven Up series of films, Wurtzel showed footage of interviews with a grey haired man. In 2012, he had no interest in social media. In 2014, he was on Facebook and Instagram.

Wurtzel then did a deep digital data dive to argue that all of NBC's programs, particularly the low rated ones, were watched by significantly more people, particularly young viewers, than the ratings indicated. NBC commissioned special studies to get numbers known as the Total Audience Measurement Index, which are a measurement of every form of viewing, from live to X Box, over a seven day period. Eleven percent of the 18-24 year old viewers of NBC's biggest scripted hit, The Blacklist, watch digitally through methods not currently measured by Nielsen (which is slowly rolling out a mobile ratings measurement) and are not counted in any version of the Nielsen ratings.  A whopping forty five percent of 18-24 year old viewers watch Parks and Recreation digitally. Parks and Recreation averaged a 1.2 adults 18-49 rating, rises to a 1.7 in Live +7 ratings. According to Wurtzel, when the thirty seven percent of adults 18-49 viewers who watch the show via unmeasured digital methods are counted, the show's adults 18-49 rating rises to a 2.7. Wurtzel also claims that, contrary to Nielsen's claim that young viewers are watching less television, when all form of digital viewing are counted, viewership has actually gone up by thirty minutes a month.

Hey, you loyal readers may be saying to yourselves, this flies in the face of tvbythenumbers mantra that Live +SD is still the only significant number for determining whether shows get renewed. Actually, it doesn't. Wurtzel acknowledged that the television industry has yet to figure out how to monetize all of those extra viewers, and probably won't until it becomes easy to get TAMI numbers for all programs, and, most importantly, advertisers get on board with new measurements.

Though he took pains to stress that he was not out to bash Nielsen, Wurtzel did admit that he wished that it took less than twenty days to get Live +7 day data.


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