Best of the Week: Should TV ditch the overnights? No!
Welcome to Best of the Week, kicked off before first light at Sisters Beach, Tasmania. It was a night of furniture scraping around the deck, while winds rattled the doors and rain hammered the roof.
It’s good to be back where the people are less awful than the corporate types you’ll meet in the Melbourne Qantas lounge. After nearly 14 years on Twitter, I had my first fully viral tweet on Wednesday.
As the obnoxious CEO’s call boomed out from his laptop speaker, a couple of participants got into a spat, oblivious to their lounge audience. From the context, it became clear that the terrible human being inflicting the call upon us runs some sort of government-adjacent business or agency.
Anyway, he needs to get to know new immigration, citizenship and multicultural affairs minister Andrew Giles better, he informed those on the call. And when they do the Services Australia tender, they’ll be doing so in line with federal government rates, not Victorian. in case you were wondering.
Speaking of which, he bit off more than he could chew during his posting in in Victoria, he told his audience. He broke his ankle and caught Covid, poor man.
Hopefully he’s not running an organisation where confidentiality is important. The communications to the workforce about transitioning them all to a full time model will be going out soon, he mentioned.
He wasn’t the brightest. When the call finally ended, this busy executive turned to Wordle and failed to solve it in the six permitted attempts.
Reminder: Unmade’s paying supporters receive this email before everybody else.
Barbra Streisand at the Ivy
It’s been a week of talking about declining TV ratings.
It was kicked off on Monday by an article in The Australian, focusing on the falling overnight ratings for breakfast television.
It included a graph featuring OzTam metro data.
The shift away from analogue viewing is relatively old news, of course. As it happens, the thing that most drew my attention in the graph was the rise of ABC News Breakfast (particularly since I stopped regularly appearing on it when the pandemic began). The gap has closed even more in 2022.
Nonetheless, the article triggered something of a reaction. The journalists at 7News (completely independently of course) decided it was a good time to spontaneously publish a story sharing data about how well Sunrise is doing on 7plus and social media.
Radio Info joined in the coverage, and got muddled up, claiming that KiisFM’s Kyle & Jackie O Show is outrating breakfast TV.
The article compared Sandilands and Henderson’s weekly cumulative audience number of 648,000 (which represents the number of people who had tuned in for eight minutes at some point during the week) with Sunrise average metro audience, at any given time, of 260,000.
Radio Info would have done better comparing Sunrise’s 260,000 with Kyle & Jackie O’s average listening audience of 96,000.
Or it could have compared radio’s cume to OzTam’s similar TV reach data (which is anybody who viewed for a minute at some point).
In that case, Sunrise easily outguns The Kyle & Jackie O Show. Radio Info ended up deleting the story, and replacing it with an apologetic feature sharing Sunrise’s OzTam reach numbers.
Incidentally, that apology probably swung too far the other way. The new data total was national, while the radio data was for K&J’s Sydney audience only. Their drivetime Hour of Power goes out across the rest of the Kiss network, and I suspect that their average live listening number is indeed slightly higher than Sunrise’s live viewing in Sydney.
Nonetheless the story of fading commercial TV ratings rumbled on as the week progressed. “Where are the winter audiences?” asked TV Tonight, suggesting audiences may be tiring of reality formats.
Acknowledging changing means of viewing, TV writer Colin Vickery asked the right question on Tuesday…
And on Wednesday, the ABC’s Tom Gleeson was out-rating the reality shows on commercial television.
Meanwhile, this was all going down against a backdrop of investor sentiment around the world turning against TV companies, including in Australia
Seven’s share price fell nearly 12% for the week, and is down 23% so far this year.
Nine was down more than 7% this week and 28% for the year..
Southern Cross Austereo was down 9% and 32% for the year.
It’s hard to say whether that made the timing good or bad for SWM’s CEO James Warburton to be giving a presentation to CEDA, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia at The Ivy on Wednesday.
He understandably used the opportunity to argue the case that TV is still a growth industry. He’s right, by the way. However, not all TV companies are equally well placed to benefit from it. Seven, for instance, still lacks a subscription streaming arm.
Warburton’s main point was about how the TV industry presents its data, and I’ll come to that shortly.
First though, he offered an aside, which is worth bearing in mind for what comes next. There have been a number of assumptions about Netflix’s forthcoming ad-supported tier, and how that will impact the advertising market.
The question of content rights may hamper Netflix more than people realised, suggested Warburton. For a long time, Netflix’s boss Reed Hastings was so against advertising, that many of its library deals do not cover the ad-supported video on demand rights, only subscription video on demand. As Warburton put it:
“It’s a great case study for legacy media. The legacy studios have simply taken back their content, removing it from the aggregators like Netflix, developed their own streaming services and suddenly the world for the likes of Netflix isn’t looking so easy.
“Don’t worry, says Netflix, we’ll pivot to a lower cost advertising model, but actually it’s not quite that simple.
“Here in Australia, and around the world, other than the streamers’ owned content, content is sold in AVOD and SVOD rights windows and is locked up for many years. In Australia we have a number of shared titles you can watch on 7plus or Netflix. But Seven has the AVOD contract so Netflix can’t have them.”
Warburton is friustrated that when the overnight ratings are reported the next day, they set a narrative about declining audiences which is hard to unwind, even when the data for catchup viewing over the subsequent seven and 28 days eventually arrives.
Even that extra viewing doesn’t take broadcast viewing back up to where it once was, by the way, but it does make for a better number.
And it is genuinely impressive. For big brands, TV is still easily the most effective mass medium. TV advertising may no longer be a bazooka, but it’s still the biggest gun.
Where Warburton proposes the wrong solution was in the next part of his speech:
“So, the challenge I put to my TV peers is: let’s get rid of overnights, even for just a month, and start to tell the real story. That’s what happens in the UK and the US where they focus on three days and seven days. We hear all the time that everyone is streaming, with the inference that no one is watching television. “
The next day it led Mumbrella’s newsletter. In trying to stop the industry talking about the fading overnight numbers, Warburton got the industry talking about the fading overnight numbers. The Barbra Streisand Effect writ large.
Getting rid of the overnights is a bad idea for the TV industry. Every day there are reports on the winners and losers of television. The fact that it gets so much coverage reinforces the message to the market of its continuing importance.
The first comparison that came to mind was the disgraceful taking-the-trash out, coordinated hit on the Audited Media Association of Australia in December 2016 when the three big magazine players - Pacific Magazines (then owned by Seven, funnily enough), NewsLifeMedia and Bauer Media (now Are Media) - simultaneously resigned from the audits.
They did not like the ongoing negative coverage of falling circulations. But without the regular audits coverage, magazines vanished even further from view and from the media agency consideration set.
Admittedly, that’s not quite what Warburton’s proposing, at least initially. His proposal seems to be to delay the overnights’ release until it can be stacked up with later viewing too.
I suspect that if the networks attempted this, they would quickly find coverage drying up. There’s be less appetite from the trade press to write about old news, so TV’s daily place in the conversation would fade. And the media agencies, who pay for their OzTam subscriptions, would still have access to the data anyway, so the bad news would still get out.
Nine’s sales boss Michael Stephenson seems to take that view, telling Mumbrella: “Overnight ratings through a total television lens are a critically important data point for our industry. Understanding how a show performed across all platforms, live linear, live streaming, and on-demand, on the night that it was broadcast, will continue to be an important data point.
“The overnight ratings should come out through a total television lens every morning, and at the same time we should be able to understand how the content was consumed in the seven days prior.”
That’s a fair point. Combining the OzTam overnight broadcast numbers with the VOZ (Virtual Oz) digital numbers for a simultaneous release the next day makes sense, even if it means coming out an hour or so later. As does including regional viewing now that Seven owns Prime and Nine has to all intents and purposes merged with WIN.
Even just from a perspective of cultural importance, the national number deserves to have higher prominence than metro.
But sitting on data for three days until it becomes less bad will make the TV industry seem defensive when it should be making the case that it’s still the greatest mass medium.
As one commenter on Mumbrella put it, sarcastically:
“In a world that is getting faster and faster each year, what a stroke of genius to do the opposite and get rid of the overnights. Every advertiser I’ve ever worked with craves, nay, demands, slower audience data because that way they can address the campaign long after the horse has bolted. Prioritising “the big number” to bolster PR in a vain attempt to look bigger than a campaign can actually deliver is fools gold. Don’t get me wrong – seven-day and 28-day are VERY important – but NOT at the cost of banning overnights.”
What should not be lost though is that the TV industry still offers better data than any other medium.
Magazines have vanished from sight since assassinating the audit bureau.
Ditto newspapers, who also exited the audit. The mark-your-own-homework attempt of EMMA eventually, deservedly failed.
Radio deserves more questions. The greatest trick the radio industry ever pulled was to persuade the world to talk about percentage share when its ratings, rather than actual audiences. The data is all there, but because the market speaks in percentages, that’s where the coverage goes; 2GB’s Ben Fordham being number one in Sydney with a share of 18.5% sounds a lot more impressive than Ben Fordham having an average of 149,000 listeners.
As for digital media, since the IAB disendorsed Nielsen last year, there is not even an agreed industry currency.
And we’ve now been waiting more than a decade for the outdoor industry to come good on its pledge to include seasonality in its MOVE data.
TV is being held to a higher standard. But that’s a pretty good place in the market to be.
The Unmade Index
It was another bad week for The Unmade Index, even if the fall slowed a little on Friday to 0.7%.
The Unmade Index is now 28% off its 1000-point opening at the start of the year.
Time to let you get on with your Saturday. The rain’s coming back. Time to get in a walk on the beach while I still can.
Have a great weekend.