Friday, August 5, 2011

True Strength: Sports as Competition

When I first approached this True Strength project as a doe-eyed youth ready to take over the world (about two or three months ago), I ambitiously envisioned a sort of Competition Spectrum that would grade each show's competition based not just on the size of the shows but also on the genre of the shows (with similar genre shows counting "tougher"). I still think that kind of thing might be helpful (it was inspired by my post about how American Idol hurt unscripted shows more than scripted), but it unfortunately looks like way too much work for what would be a pretty small gain. Maybe next year. But there's one "type of competition" problem so egregious that it has to be addressed: sports.

I've sort of hinted at this in some of the early posts, but sports are really their own beast. The audience is fairly unlike almost anything else in primetime and a large chunk of it is fairly uninterested in almost everything else in primetime. Yet some of them get huge ratings. Can we really count those huge ratings as if they were an entertainment program of the same rating?

The best testing ground is the only really big regularly scheduled sporting event: NBC's Sunday Night Football. Here's how our new Formula So Far treats the programs that regularly air against it:

Football No Football Change

bcPUT Com-TS bcPUT Com-TS bcPUT Com-TS
The Cleveland Show 13.83 2.58 11.12 2.16 -2.71 -16%
Family Guy 15.68 3.40 11.25 3.01 -4.43 -12%
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition 12.36 2.00 10.47 1.94 -1.89 -3%
Desperate Housewives 14.90 3.42 10.82 2.71 -4.08 -21%
Brothers & Sisters 14.46 2.35 10.59 1.81 -3.88 -23%
Undercover Boss 14.87 2.93 10.10 2.38 -4.77 -19%
CSI: Miami 14.42 2.34 10.55 2.14 -3.87 -8%

The competition-adjusted True Strength (Com-TS) is supposed to adjust for competition and make it about even in most competitive situations. But it's clear that in the case of Sunday Night Football, it is consistently an "overadjustment," meaning the shows are consistently stronger against football than when not facing it. This makes sense even if you just go back to raw adults 18-49 ratings; a lot of these shows are stronger in the fall against football than in the spring.

On average, almost half of the "bcPUT" during football season is football; Sunday Night Football's average TS was a 6.68. Let's cut football's influence in half and see where we end up.

Football No Football Change

bcPUT Com-TS bcPUT Com-TS bcPUT Com-TS
The Cleveland Show 10.61 2.28 10.53 2.12 -0.08 -7%
Family Guy 12.39 3.03 11.25 3.01 -1.14 -1%
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition 9.77 1.81 9.77 1.90 0.00 +5%
Desperate Housewives 11.64 3.03 10.82 2.71 -0.82 -11%
Brothers & Sisters 11.21 2.09 10.59 1.81 -0.62 -13%
Undercover Boss 11.58 2.60 10.10 2.38 -1.48 -9%
CSI: Miami 11.13 2.07 10.55 2.14 -0.58 +3%

So that "cut football in half" number was kind of arbitrary, but it's got most of these relatively close to even. The shows that still take big declines after football's over (especially serialized shows DH and B&S, but perhaps also the relatively young Undercover Boss) are shows that I think just got "truly" weaker in the spring.

Basically, the adjustment that I'll use coming out of this is that all sporting events will count for half of their True Strength in the bcPUT calculations only.

Cable Sports

Though I've acknowledged it may be a bit foolish, I've decided to basically ignore cable and consider "competition" to be everything that's on broadcast (though the constant I add to the 10:00 hour is partly an acknowledgement of cable being stronger in that hour). My thinking was that there are two big exceptions to the "cable's not big enough to be consistently countable as competition" rule: ESPN's Monday Night Football and especially ESPN's BCS Championship Game on January 10 (which got a 10.1 demo). Those seem to be the two events on cable that are so big they can have a noticeable affect on overall Persons Using TV levels.

For those two events, I'll follow the above strategy and add half of the rating to the bcPUTs used from 8:30 through 11:00 on those days. Most of the shows do not seem to be significantly weaker against Monday Night Football, but it does bring them up a bit and make up for the often inflated PUT levels on those evenings. The BCS Title Game hurt several shows, and Castle is still at a True Strength season low even after adding another 5.05 points to its bcPUT (though not by nearly as much). Might just have to shrug the shoulders on that one, because many other shows (like Lie to Me, The Bachelor and various CBS repeats) seem to have relatively believable True Strengths after getting a few more points injected.

As with the suggested "Competition Spectrum" at the top of this post, I could probably do a lot more micromanaging with cable, adding in a few more big events to create more accurate competition levels. But again, I just don't think that's worth the work it would take at this point. Football is really the one thing on cable that noticeably moves the overall PUT needle. Hopefully the spreadsheet will be better set up to try something like that next year.

Moving On!

I believe this wraps up competition. No big changes to the formula in this post, but I'll repost it all in the first numbers-laden post next week. Next week begins our look at the third and final of the "big three" things that influence TV ratings: lead-ins! Once that is done, I believe we're going to have ourselves a formula to work with next season!

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