The DVR Skew: Will Delayed Viewing Gains Really Help Shows Like Forever and Constantine?

By | January 28, 2015

Tracking the ratings for the broadcast network sci fi / fantasy shows factoring in DVR viewing up to seven days past the live broadcast.

forever-abc-cancelledSo this year the broadcast networks (particularly the Big Four: ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC) are claiming that they will be looking more closely at the delayed viewing numbers for a full week following to the original broadcast of a show (aka DVR viewing, aka Live+7). And the viewers who have seen their shows cancelled all too many times due to low overnights have been clamoring for this for quite some time. But the question is how much weight will the networks actually give to this metric especially considering the fact that their advertisers (who supply the revenue that pays the networks’ bills) are much more interested in the overnight numbers for the actual broadcast (the hour when they paid to have their commercial run)?   This season, we have seen some evidence that suggests the networks are making decisions based on the DVR numbers. Low rated Forever has seen significant improvement when its delayed viewing is factored in and ABC gave that one a full season order (in the past they would have yanked it at mid-season or even sooner). NBC’s Constantine has struggled on Friday nights but has looked better when the DVR viewers are added in and allegedly the network is still considering it for a second season. But we have not seen actual renewals based on these delayed viewing numbers yet. The networks may have just decided to keep Forever and Constantine on the air because they just didn’t have anything better to put in their timeslots if they pulled them off the air. We will get a much clearer picture of how the networks feel about these shows at the end of the season when they set their schedules for next year. If one or both of these get a renewal, then perhaps those DVR numbers are starting to factor into the network decision-making. If not (and if no other shows with strong DVR gains get renewed), then we can assume it is just business as usual and all the pro-DVR talk is just network doublespeak.

The fact is that networks have seen significant ratings attrition over the last few years, and I believe their emphasis on the Live+7 numbers is their way of padding out the stats and trying to cover up the losses they are experiencing. Of course it is true that DVR viewing has become an essential part of the television experience these days (as well as online and other platforms), and that works against the old model which relies heavily on sponsered adds viewed during the live broadcast to support network costs. A new model needs to be established (and I’d be happy to bend your ear for several hours with any of a number of viable alternatives). But the television networks–as with any well established industry–are slow to change and would prefer to duck tape the current broken model rather than embrace wholesale change. Something has to give at some point (probably as soon as the next year or two), but in the meantime we will receive plenty of network talk-arounds as they try to resist true change.

All that said, you are probably more interested in the actual numbers for the sci fi and fantasy shows. One of the problems with that, though, is that I do not have a consistent source that gives the full Live+7 numbers for all shows for each week. My main source is TV by the Numbers which shows the Top 25 shows based on ratings gains and percentage gains (if anybody knows of a more comprehensive source, please pass it along). Fortunately, though, most of the sci fi / fantasy shows regularly show up there (definitely a telling stat for genre viewing). But not every show is there every week that it airs a new episode. What I have compiled below is based on the data I have been able to collect for the sci fi entries from my limited source. Shows like Gotham, Agents of SHIELD, Forever, and even Constantine are regular entries on these charts, so the stats for those are quite solid. Shows like Arrow and Vampire Diaries do not always hit these charts, in part because they have a low starting point since they air on the fifth place network and also in part because viewers apparently prefer to watch them when they air. So the the DVR gains I am calculating for them will not be quite as accurate because I have less datapoints. But overall, the stats that I have below should not be too far off. Basically just know that the more datapoints I have (represented by the column Live+7 Days Tracked) then the more accurate the data and the math should work out. The less datapoints, the less accurate, and the math won’t quite work.

I have the list below sorted by the average rating based on the Live+7 numbers.  At the top of the list is FOX’s Gotham which is considered a definite hit this season and which received its renewal notice just recently.  Next in line is ABC’s Once Upon A Time which has experienced a resurgence this season and which can expect a renewal once its network gets around to making those announcements.  After that is Agents of SHIELD which might lead you to believe it is safe as well.  But it’s overnights have been pretty tepid this season and since it is an expensive series to produce it needs that money that the advertisers are putting into its live broadcasts.  After that is FOX’s Sleepy Hollow which also you might think is safe, but that network appeared to give it the cold shoulder just recently.  At Number 5 is CBS series Person of Interest which has slipped in its overnights this season, but is probably still doing well enough to plug up the Tuesday 10 PM EST hour.  After that is fifth place network The CW’s new entry The Flash which is nearly competing with the big boys based on its numbers and which has already received its renewal notice.  Grimm comes in at Number 7 and is looking good enough for a Friday entry.  The next three are not as solid, though Forever and Constantine are picking up a decent percentage of viewers with the Live+7 factored in and their networks should at least consider keeping them around to plug up their troublesome timeslots.  Resurrection airs at a premium hour, though, and is pulling poor overnights without sufficient gains from DVR viewing, so it seems certainly doomed.  The rest of the list is comprised of CW entries which all got renewed this season because I believe that network just wanted to thumb its nose at the Nielsens (you gotta like that).

Note that ABC’s Agent Carter and Galavant are not included here because I only have one datapoint for each of them at this point (the Live+7 results are on a three week delay).  I also do not have the cable entries included here because I have no consistent source for that data.  I will continue to post this data once a month or so until the end of the season, and then revisit it after the schedules are set for next year to see if it impacted cancellation/renewal decisions.

Rank Series Network Avg Over-night Rtg Live+7 Days Tracked Avg Live+7 Rtg Live+7 % Gain Cancellation Alert
1 Gotham FOX 2.4 11 4.2 71.0% Renewed
2 Once Upon A Time ABC 2.6 11 3.7 45.9% Low
3 Agents of SHIELD ABC 1.7 10 3.0 76.6% Moderate
4 Sleepy Hollow FOX 1.6 12 2.7 65.8% Low
5 Person of Interest CBS 1.6 9 2.5 54.2% Low
6 The Flash CW 1.5 6 2.4 64.4% Renewed
7 Grimm NBC 1.2 8 2.3 83.0% Low
8 Forever ABC 1.2 11 2.1 75.6% Moderate
9 Resurrection ABC 1.3 7 1.8 68.0% High
10 Constantine NBC 1.0 7 1.7 83.1% High
11 Vampire Diaries CW 0.8 8 1.5 84.1% Renewed
11 Arrow CW 1.0 2 1.5 70.6% Renewed
13 Supernatural CW 0.9 3 1.4 61.5% Renewed
14 The Originals CW 0.6 6 1.2 81.6% Renewed
15 The 100 CW 0.5 5 0.9 70.4% Renewed

Metric Definitions:

Live+7 Rating:  This is the rating in the 18-49 demographic that factors in the viewing from the live broadcast plus DVR viewing up to seven days later.

Avg Overnight Rtg: The season to date average rating based on the final overnights for live broadcast.

Live+7 Days Tracked: The days that the Live+7 data was available for a show in the Live+7 Top 25 charts published by TV by The Numbers.

Avg Live+7 Rtg: The season to date average rating based on the Live+7 numbers for the Live+7 Days Tracked (see metric above).

Live+7 % Gain: The average Live+7 rating percent gain from the average overnight rating based on the Live+7 Days Tracked (see metric above).  The more datapoints available in the Live+7 Days Tracked, the more accurate this will be and the closer the math will work.  Shows with fewer datapoints will have larger discrepancies.

Cancellation Alert: My estimation on a show’s chances of being cancelled.  The five levels from least to most likely to be cancelled are Low, Moderate, Medium, Elevated, and High.

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