How Fox’s Ditching of Same-Day Ratings Will Shake the Network Landscape

Bold? Yes. Impactful? Probably not — at least, not right away

Chuck Hodes/Fox

Fox may no longer be reporting Live + Same Day ratings, but as long as Nielsen still is, so will everyone else.

Network heads Dana Walden and Gary Newman elected on Friday to declare fast national and overnight numbers dead: They will no longer share Live + SD data, either internally or with the press. The move seemed like a bold gesture, but it probably won’t make a big dent in the industry.

After all, the numbers will still exist and will be readily available to anyone with a Nielsen subscription. And for those who don’t have one, well, information travels pretty quickly these days.

“Let’s say the broadcast nets banded together and didn’t send [Live + Same Day ratings] out,” one competing network insider told TheWrap. “An agency or a distributor would still send them.”

In that regard, the only way the insider sees the metric actually going the way of the dodo is if Nielsen itself stops studying the figures and issuing them.

That’s not happening, Horizon Media Research SVP Brad Adgate told TheWrap. After all, advertisers still want and use Live + Same Day ratings — and billions of dollars are at stake.

While the admittedly antiquated measurement of TV viewership is no longer a perfectly accurate portrait of who watched an episode one advertised on, the numbers still have definite value.

Media buyers and advertisers not only need to understand how many people were exposed to their product pitches, they want to know when someone saw their spot, and no one feels like waiting a week or two to receive the data whenever delayed viewing totals are finalized.

Plus, as Fox pointed out in its own announcement, live ratings still matter a lot for news, sports, late-night talk shows, and events — so it’s not as if Nielsen can shut down an entire data stream from its set-top boxes. Fox will continue reporting those figures for things like NFL football, Major League Baseball, awards shows and its upcoming musical special “Grease: Live.”

Internally, Fox execs like Walden and Newman will still have and study the overnight data, and it will trickle down to a few key players — but dissemination will stop way higher on the corporate chart than it did before, an insider there told TheWrap.

And Fox is not the only network that has questioned the value of L+SD ratings. Even Les Moonves, who oversees the oldest-skewing broadcaster, CBS, has publicly railed against the relevance of same-day ratings — as has his ratings guru, David Poltrack. That said, CBS hasn’t made a move like this (yet), possibly because the network still fares quite well by the old-school data set.

A person with knowledge of the ratings end at yet another broadcast network admitted that there are varying opinions about the topic in their own workplace but doesn’t understand the logic behind Fox’s announcement. The person likened the Walden-Newman declaration to a store owner not looking at their daily sales, simply because there will be more sales the next day. That source doesn’t believe their own network will follow suit, but admits it’s possible.

Fox may be just trying to send more of a message than to call for an overthrow of the measurement. “It reached a point where they had to do something about it to make their point,” Adgate said of Fox’s Friday announcement.

The real goal, network insiders said, is to modify media coverage of ratings toward a metric that favors the delayed viewing that is the norm among audiences, particularly in younger demographics. That’s especially true for Fox, which has struggled in same-day viewing with the lone exception of Lee Daniels’ hip-hop soap opera “Empire.”

One competing network insider called out the suspicious timing of the announcement, as Fox’s “Empire” (pictured above) will go on a midseason break next week.

No network would speak on the record for this story, with one exception: Univision, which barely registers in delayed viewing and therefore defends the use of L+SD ratings.

“We have an engaged audience in primetime who primarily watches our content live,” a spokesperson told TheWrap. “In the current broadcast season, 92 percent of Univision Network’s adult 18-49 viewers watch entertainment programming live — far surpassing the numbers for ABC (48 percent), CBS (52 percent), Fox (50 percent) and NBC (54 percent) for entertainment programming viewing in primetime.”

“This is why Same Day TV ratings are still  important, especially for our advertising partners looking for this coveted viewer who watches the programming and commercials live,” the spokesperson added.

And yes, Univision is among the networks that will continue to share Fox’s Live + Same Day data.