Why Ten’s ditching overnight ratings

From today, Network Ten will focus on seven day audience data, rather than overnight data, explains CEO Paul Anderson. Why? Overnight TV ratings have become "increasingly misleading and meaningless" and don't reflect actual audience behaviours. And so what we need, argues Anderson, is a new way of thinking about, and reporting on, TV ratings.

For decades, TV network executives waited with bated breath each morning for the arrival of the overnight audience numbers. It became a daily ritual; the numbers were how the networks were judged. But not anymore. The TV world has changed, and overnight TV ratings are increasingly misleading and meaningless.

The rise of new ways of watching TV content means overnight audience numbers don’t reflect how or when people are engaging with TV content. They misrepresent a TV program’s total audience. They don’t give advertisers the complete picture of how a program is performing. And they don’t give enough credit to the fantastic Aussie producers and actors behind, and in front of, the camera.

From today, Ten will shift its focus from overnight audience numbers to total audience numbers

The future of our industry is about providing brand-safe and brand-relevant content to our viewers on the platform they want, at a time they want, not in the way and at the time decided by a TV network. This is how we monetise it. This should be how we measure it.

Overnight TV audience numbers do not tell the whole story. It’s hard to think of another industry where incomplete data is given such attention and is reported on so widely. And, yet, we keep sending those numbers to media and boasting about our overnight successes.

From today, we’re going to start changing that. Network Ten will place a much greater focus on total seven day audience data (the combination of overnight viewing data and data over the following week). While we will continue to report overnight data, it will no longer be our main focus, and nor should it be.

The change in how people are watching TV was highlighted by Cord Audiences: A New Way Of Thinking About TV, a groundbreaking research report we released last week at Mumbrella360 to help advertisers and agencies understand what viewers are doing.

Based on a representative sample of 2,500 people aged 18 years and over, the research underlined how viewing habits are changing thanks to the rise of on-demand services. It identified four types of viewers: cord forevers, cord shavers, cord cutters and cord nevers. (If you’re wondering, a cord is either a free-to-air TV aerial or a cable connecting to subscription TV).

The cord forevers mainly watch TV in the traditional way and have little interest in broadcast or subscription video on demand services. In comparison, the cord nevers don’t, or rarely, watch traditional TV; instead, they mainly watch services like 10 Play, the ABC’s iView, 10 All Access or Netflix. Interestingly, all four groups are quite similar in terms of their age profile, debunking the assumption that all cord nevers are young people.

There’s a lot of great information in the Cord Audiences report, but one of its key messages is that the way people watch TV is changing and will continue to change. It follows that the way we report TV audience data has to change too.

Overnight data is an anachronism in a world where less and less people are sitting in front of a TV set to watch a program at a time dictated to them by a TV network. That just isn’t how people behave. Every month, our industry is setting records for industry BVOD viewing – new ways that our content is being consumed, new viewers, and new ways for advertisers to connect with our premium, brand safe content. Sure, linear viewing is still a big chunk of total TV viewing, but it isn’t the whole picture.

And just how misleading are overnight numbers? Well, it varies from show to show.

Last year, The Bachelor Australia had an average overnight audience of 1.15m nationally. But add in other forms of viewing over the following seven days and that audience climbed to 1.45m, an increase of 26% (the total number excludes encores).

More recently, our new local drama series Five Bedrooms has been scoring an overnight national audience of 611,000. But its total audience after seven days is 816,000, an increase of 34%.

Similar gaps between overnight and total audience numbers are evident with shows across all commercial networks.

We are all being hurt by the focus on overnight data.

And we all have a role to play in changing the way TV audience data is analysed and reported on.

At Ten, we talk about “the new TV”. At its core, the new TV means giving people the best content in the way they want it, finding new ways to engage and talk with people across all screens and beyond the screen, and giving advertisers the ability to personalise and target their consumers through rich data while still reaching mass audiences.

Achieving that requires a new way of thinking, a new way of talking about TV audience data. It requires downplaying the misleading overnight audience numbers and focusing on total audience numbers – a true reflection of the new TV.

Paul Anderson is the CEO at Network Ten


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