Hey TV execs, don’t kill overnight TV ratings

Yes, we need a better way to show the full picture of TV viewing but killing overnights isn't the answer. Spinach general manager and media director Ben Willee suggests an alternative.

In a shocking turn of events, earlier this year, Seven West Media MD and CEO James Warburton put the call out to scrap overnight TV ratings.

For as long as I have been in this business, overnight ratings have been the bread and butter of agencies. Any client that has a campaign on the air, and the agency that put it there, is hanging out for those numbers the next day. Understandably, we want to know how many people saw our ads!

But Seven has a different idea. The network, with the support of Network Ten (Viacom CBS), wants to introduce a weekly model that brings together overnight ratings, catch-up and people who watched on a streaming service or connected TV.

Viewers now have an array of choice for viewing beyond FTA 

Which is a fair point. We’re all consuming video content differently. Streaming and catch up will soon become just as important as good old fashioned linear TV. At some stage, it’s going to become even more important. But right now, there’s no way of reporting combined and unduplicated audiences for linear TV, streaming and catch up.

We’re told it’s coming. OzTAM’s Virtual Australia or VOZ is the foundation of Australia’s new ‘Total TV’ reporting standard and is set to bring together broadcast viewing on TV sets and connected devices (smart TVs, desktop/laptop computers, tablets and smartphones) to provide all-screen, cross-platform planning and reporting.

It’s only been three years since VOZ was announced and the delays have been widely reported so I won’t pile on. But is this the great fix Seven is looking for?

It depends on the problem they’re trying to solve.

If it’s providing a full and complete picture of who’s watching what and when in a fragmented media landscape, then yes, VOZ will likely help that.

If they’re trying to fix a problem of declining TV ratings, well, then they’re pushing shit uphill.

The reality is that less people are watching linear TV. Sure, more people are watching BVOD but is the combination of those two audiences equivalent to heady days when tentpole shows were clocking up millions of viewers every night? You know, in those days before Netflix, Disney+ and all those other streaming services. I reckon probably not.

Oscar Wilde said the only thing in the world worse than being talked about, is not being talked about. If you take away overnight ratings, that’s exactly what is going to happen. People are going to stop talking about TV. Which would be bloody stupid, right?

So how best to proceed here? I reckon it’s a case of working with the people who report on TV ratings so that they can help tell the full story.

How about if, based on the data, overnight ratings came with a caveat. Akin to how crimes are always reported with the word ‘allegedly’, reports of overnight ratings are delivered with a statement such as, “drama programs usually increase by X% when we add in catch up and streaming”. Or, “sports programs usually increase by X%”.

Say what you like about TV but there’s a reason why it’s still a whopping great big advertising channel with 47% of ad dollars spent on the medium, according to May’s SMI figures.

The combination of high reach and sight, sound and movement means it’s still one of the most powerful tools in an effective marketer’s toolkit. So let’s make sure it stays that way.

Don’t kill overnights. We saw what happened when magazines and newspapers canned circulation audits and if TV follows suit, it could well be the beginning of the end for the medium. And do you really want the gap to be filled by those morons on LinkedIn shouting at us about how we should only do new media?

Ben Willee is the general manager and media director of Spinach.


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