I started writing this blog post about the 10pm hour, and our barometer for success at 10pm needed an adjustment.
The reason? It was the DVR, of course. With DVRs in about 40% of American households (and always growing), the way viewers are watching television is increasingly time delayed. Yes, you've been reading sentences like that since 2002, but now we're really noticing it. And it's why there's so much rumbling on ratings boards and forums about the 10pm problem. You can really forget Live+7 data (which, as our friends at TVbytheNumbers.com have tried to hammer home... really doesn't mean much of anything when Live data is the closest approximation we have to C3 ratings).
The problem shows up in comparing Live ratings with Live plus Same Day.
The problem at 10pm stems from the fact that humans need sleep. If only there were a cure!
No. But if something airs later and gets recorded, there is less time to watch it before the "Same Day" cutoff that allows the viewing to be counted on Live+SD ratings. I've even seen it in critics' writeups of the day's programming... apologies, I couldn't get to the 10pm show, I was still catching up on 8pm and 9pm shows. In addition, the time you spend watching your recordings of earlier shows - or the day before's shows, or shows from over the weekend you've saved up, or whatever - you aren't watching the 10pm shows live.
So we're seeing ABC, CBS, and NBC struggle to even crack a 3.0 at 10pm (okay, really, that's just CBS... ABC and NBC are often struggling to crack 2.0) in Live+SD ratings.
You don't have to just take me at my word. There's empirical evidence (I'm just looking at overall rating points, not percentages).
During premiere week, Glee added the most A18-49 from Same Day DVR: 1.6 points! It went from a 4.0 Live to a 5.6 Live+SD. Modern Family added 1.5, going from 3.6 to 5.1. There were several other big gainers (Big Bang Theory: 1.5; House: 1.3; The Office: 1.3; Grey's Anatomy: 1.3; How I Met Your Mother: 1.1; Survivor: 1.1)
The biggest Live to Live+SD bump at 10pm?
Private Practice. It added 0.5, going from 2.7 to 3.2. There were a couple 0.4 adders, like Hawaii Five-0 going from 3.5 to 3.9.
And, through three weeks, Private Practice's weekly 0.5 gain (it has repeated that figure each week) is still the biggest of any 10pm show.
This is not to say that EVERY 8pm or 9pm show gains more than 0.5 from Same Day DVR viewing. Far from it. But the line between shows that scrape by and real "hits" (by current ratings standards, not those of yesteryear), to me, seems like it's less about Live viewing than it is about Same Day DVR viewing. People seek those shows out, whether the networks are being compensated for that or not (and I suspect that those shows with the biggest overall DVR numbers will also prove to be the same shows that top viewing in other platforms).
If people aren't DVRing 10pm shows... well, that's why the ratings rarely top a 3.0. Maybe it's the shows themselves. 10pm has seen many huge TV hits... before the DVR came along. But the truth of today, for scripted shows (live sporting events escape this rule, as do certain reality shows like DWTS), is that you cannot be a big hit without a sizable DVR component. Though there definitely is a different between a show like Private Practice with a 2.7 Live and 0.5 DVR and Chuck with a 1.5 Live and 0.5 DVR (both during premiere week).
Let's move out of 10pm. Because, in really looking at the data... it's not really limited to 10pm, even if my initial hypothesis was only looking there.
Take NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles. Both hits, both will be around for a while. NCIS clearly the bigger hit, right? Want to know the difference between the two? Hint: it's not Live ratings. NCIS just has about 0.5 more Same Day DVR rating points every week than NCIS:LA.
How I Met Your Mother vs Rules of Engagement tells the same story. RoE actually beat HIMYM in premiere week in Live ratings. But HIMYM, as above, added 1.1 in DVR playback. RoE only added 0.5 points.
Let's not even look at shows leading into each other.
Take Chuck and Undercovers. Week one, Chuck did 1.5 Live and added 0.5 in playback. Undercovers did 1.8 and added 0.3. Guess where they were in week 3? Chuck was 1.4 Live, and added that same 0.5. Undercovers had sunk to a 1.4... and added a mere 0.1 in playback. We all know the writing is on the wall for Undercovers, but the DVR rejection is the real issue. People who, thanks to marketing, programmed their DVRs to record it... decided to cancel that recording option or opted to not set a season pass.
It's why, I believe, it's harder and harder for new shows to hit it out of the park. People have their habits, the shows they record, and it takes a LOT to get them to add something.
The three shows canceled so far this season (Lone Star, My Generation, Outlaw)? Their premieres only got a 0.1 boost from Same Day playback.
So, no. We don't just need a new barometer of success at 10pm as I initially thought. We need a new barometer of success overall (and, really, a new standard or measurement). Because Live viewing is only going to sink lower and lower as DVR's penetration steadily increases and the difference between shows that stick around and those that leave becomes DVR playback.