Why ABC Dumped ‘Live + Same Day’ Ratings

“Our creators put a lot of heart into their work, and it’s only fair that the full appeal and reach is reported and acknowledged,” Elizabeth Sloan, ABC’s senior vice president of consumer insights, says

tony maglio ratings report banner

Monday marked the last time that ABC shared its “Live + Same Day” ratings, following Fox (four years later) in swearing off the commonly reported Nielsen data set.

Now, if people want to know how ABC shows have performed, they must wait for three days of delayed viewing to be tallied and shared by the Disney-owned broadcast network. Just kidding, they could totally still read publications like TheWrap, subscribe to Nielsen, make buddies with an ABC competitor, have Twitter, etc.

It probably comes as no surprise that ABC, like Fox back in 2015, generally does not light the world on fire in Live + Same Day ratings. As a matter of fact, ABC is currently in a tie for third among the Big 4 broadcast networks. Season-to-date, Fox is in first place with a 2.1, NBC is second with a 1.6, and ABC and CBS bring up the rear, both with 0.8s (to two decimal places, ABC edges CBS by the slightest possible margin with a 0.83 to a 0.82.)

In terms of total viewers, Live + Same Day looks like this:

  1. Fox: 7.594 million
  2. NBC: 6.863 million
  3. CBS: 6.259 million
  4. ABC: 4.292 million

That last viewpoint particularly is not a great look for ABC.

With three days of (mostly) DVR catchup, ABC only very slightly increases its non-truncated, non-rounded advantage over CBS, with a 1.14 vs. a 1.10. So what’s the point?

“This move aligns us with how we evaluate the comprehensive performance of our shows, how we monetize our business and how our audience chooses to consume our content,” ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke said Monday in an internal, memo explaining the shift in strategy to her staff. “People used to plan their lives around television, now they plan television around their lives.”

She’s not wrong: With each passing television season, Live + Same Day ratings lose a little more of their value as DVR, on-demand and binge-viewing take over. But they’re still the earliest snapshot we have into a show’s performance, which is why many TV reporters, like yours truly, still write about them each morning. That’s when an individual telecast is still its most relevant, and when intrigue on performance is the highest.

But why now, now? We asked ABC exactly that.

“This is a move we’ve wanted to make for a while, even before the season started,” the network responded in a statement. “Ultimately, we made the decision to hold off until the MP35 ratings came in so we could use that as an opportunity to share a more holistic picture of how our audience is watching our shows.”

“MP35” refers to multiplatform ratings with 35 days of delayed viewing included. That data set would include Nielsen TV ratings, streaming platforms like Hulu, and internal numbers from a broadcast network’s own digital options. It also had to wait for five weeks of the 2019-20 fall season to pass.

Here’s the clear problem with this all-encompassing approach: networks are not privy to each others’ internal digital viewership and there is no third party that can currently measure that kind of online and app-based tune-in. In other words, MP35 in its present state cannot actually become the “currency” for media buyers in any manner other than, say, ABC (in this example) comparing itself to ABC.

Elizabeth Sloan, ABC’s senior vice president of consumer insights, elaborated on the timing and content of her boss Burke’s announcement.

“Viewing behaviors are shifting,” she told TheWrap. “The way consumers are finding out about TV is changing. They are making decisions closer to air and even after premieres because word-of-mouth has become increasingly more important, and we need to focus on where the viewers are going. Our creators put a lot of heart into their work and it’s only fair that the full appeal and reach is reported and acknowledged.”

“When we started receiving our delayed data, our decision to shift was validated,” Sloan continued. “Once our MP35 data was available, it was time to make this change public. It is also worth pointing out that this season has added another layer for understanding… the successful shows were distinguishing themselves in delayed viewing.”

Need an example?

“‘Stumptown’ is the perfect example,” she said. “Out of six new series that had the same Live + Same Day rating, ‘Stumptown’ was the highest rated of them all by [Live + 7 Day ratings] and held its lead in L35 — more than quadrupling its Live + Same Day rating. And in total viewers across all platforms, after 35 days the series delivered 12.8 million.”

OK, but all of this don’t make sense (cents) if it don’t make dollars.

“The intention of this is not around making more money,” Sloan said. “The intention is to educate the industry on the health of our programs and the size of their audience.”

About that industry: Is the expectation that NBC and CBS will follow suit in dumping Live + Same Day?

“NBC is also already releasing MP35, so they believe in this measure as well,” is all a person close to ABC’s thinking told us. “CBS has been less bullish on this front and have retained [CBS] All Access data internally.”

We didn’t get a clearer answer beyond that, and NBC and CBS themselves aren’t talking.

This reporter asked both leading networks about their own futures with Nielsen’s Live + Same Day ratings, but neither responded to the pointed inquiry. A person with knowledge of CBS’ strategy told TheWrap that the network believes L+3 and L+7 metrics “give an accurate and reasonable representation of a show’s performance.” We can tell you that both have been downplaying Live + Same Day numbers for a little while now and instead emphasizing statistics inclusive of delayed viewing.

Unlike Fox and now ABC, NBC and CBS both still report Live + Same Day ratings daily, something that at the moment, neither network has plans to stop.

Tony Maglio

Tony Maglio

TV Editor • tony.maglio@thewrap.com • Twitter: @tonymaglio



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