Saturday, December 12, 2009

Peetooplus - Skewering "Skew"

In this day and age, when the demo seems to have generally "won" the "debate" in the minds (if not the hearts) of most people following TV ratings, there are basically three routes that a lowly spinster can take to address total viewers. And I've seen all of these routes taken many times by many people on the Internet.

1) Old-skew-is-better. AKA total viewers still matter on some level. "If advertisers can get some of the over-50 crowd watching their show along with their demo, they certainly won't mind that."

2) "A show's strength is purely what its demo is. Skew is meaningless."

3) Young-skew-is-better. "This show is likely to be canceled because it's old-skewing."

But how does it work out in the ad rates world? Unlike in the previous post, when I kind of expected the demo would hold up against viewers, I wasn't sure going in how this one would turn out.

Again, I'll try to look at this in a couple different ways, but it's using the same general data. The number I'll be using for "skew" is the percentage of total viewers that fall within the adults 18-49 demo. I derive that using numbers I've shown you in previous posts, plus assuming 132 million adults 18-49 total live in the US. (Nielsen's number for '09-'10. It may be slightly off the '08-'09 number, which is the year of all this data, but it's very, very close.) The average skew for a primetime show is about 44%.

We know from last post that on average, a demo point is worth about $40,000 per 30-second spot. So how do the oldest-skewing shows and the youngest-skewing shows do relative to that price? (That's what the "diff" number is, a percentage difference from the $40,207.62 average I got for my 34 shows)

These are the ten youngest-skewing scripted shows that returned to the same timeslot.

Demo Price/pt diff Skew
Family Guy 4 53687.5 +33.53% 68%
The Office 4.3 44473.49 +10.61% 68%
Simpsons 3.4 59388.24 +47.70% 63%
30 Rock 3.3 48386.06 +20.34% 63%
American Dad 2.9 47030.34 +16.97% 62%
Parks & Rec 2.4 49995.83 +24.34% 59%
Dollhouse 1.5 37580 -6.54% 54%
House 5.1 35940.78 -10.61% 50%
Private Practice 3.8 46171.05 +14.83% 50%
Grey's Anatomy 5.7 42186.32 +4.92% 50%

In other words, these are the ten scripted shows with the fewest viewers relative to their demo. And eight of them are "overpaid" relative to that approximately $40k/point average across all shows. The two others are not deeply in the red, and they could easily be down because of speculation; nobody really thought Dollhouse would average a 1.5 when it was below that for most of the end of its run, and House, even though that 5.1 average is strictly for airings within the Monday 8pm timeslot, was showing declines toward the end of the season as well. Family Guy and The Simpsons are by far the most overpaid, even though they're two of the three youngest-skewing shows on TV. Strike one for total viewers.

Here are the ten oldest-skewing scripted shows.

Demo Price/pt diff Skew
NCIS 3.65 36521.64 -9.17% 27%
Ghost Whisperer 2.5 31218.8 -22.36% 32%
Numb3rs 2.3 36959.57 -8.08% 32%
Criminal Minds 3.6 32375.83 -19.48% 33%
Castle 2.4 38625 -3.94% 34%
CSI: New York 3.4 37629.71 -6.41% 35%
CSI 4.8 41384.79 +2.93% 35%
CSI: Miami 4 35016.25 -12.91% 37%
Bones 2.7 39978.52 -0.57% 38%
Old Christine 2.1 38145.71 -5.13% 39%

Nine of ten are underpaid, and it's a real stunner to me that CSI is the lone one of these shows to get a good value, because its average is incredibly inflated by the much higher numbers when Petersen was still around, and I would think it'd have been speculated downward. Perhaps being in that really tough Thursday 9pm timeslot helped it. Most of these are not far from even, but they're mostly still down. Old skewers getting underpaid.

A couple other examples: let's take some shows with very similar demo but very different viewer numbers. I'll try to avoid Simpsons/Family Guy, which were major outliers even on the generally pretty consistent demo plot.

Demo Price Viewers Skew
Private Practice 3.8 175450 10 50%
NCIS 3.65 133304 17.8 27%

Private Practice is just a tick and a half higher than NCIS (4%) but its ads go for a whooping 32% more!

Demo Price Viewers Skew
CSI: New York 3.4 127941 13 35%
30 Rock 3.3 159674 6.9 63%

CSI:NY's originals were 3% higher on average but 30 Rock fetched about 25% more per ad despite having barely over half the viewers.

Now, this isn't to say that this is a very good correlation. When I got a coefficient for "Skew vs. diff," that number was only r = 0.67. Still stronger than ad rates against viewers, but not all that strong. So I'm not willing to come right out and say "advertisers pay more the younger you skew," because it's hard to conclude that from top to bottom. All I can say is that at the very top of the skew chart, the youngest-skewing shows seem to get a good value. Beyond the top 6 or so, it's pretty jumbled the rest of the way. But there aren't any good examples in the other direction on my chart, examples of a big viewer show hugely outdoing a little viewer show of the same demo. So I can say pretty confidently that total viewers don't even matter (in a good way) on some kind of secondary level. Given the three schools of thought I listed at the top of this post, the truth lies somewhere between 2 and 3.

This isn't to say that the programs are getting penalized for their high total viewer counts or rewarded for low ones. I think the young-skewing shows typically have appeal to advertisers that we can't see when we just see these two numbers. Usually a show with a small percentage of out-of-demo viewers is also likely to have more of its in-demo viewers be part of the premium A18-34 subset. Maybe they're more heavily DVRed and that factors in somehow. I'll leave the "why" to you. These posts aren't "why," they're just "what."

Tomorrow, a look at the notion that CBS sells total viewers.

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