Viewer as Target — How Some Ancient TV History Might Help Networks Today

Okay, I am not getting desperate for blog topics! I first wrote this over three years ago, and when I was reading recently about the second planned departure of Jay Leno from “The Tonight Show,” I thought it was worth a look back at what happened to NBC the last time he left and moved to the 10 p.m. Monday through Friday time slot. Rentrak now has a much bigger footprint, more operators, and a more sophisticated projection system, but I think the basics still ring true.


What were the underlying dynamics of the disappearing viewers that NBC suffered Monday through Friday at 10 p.m. when Leno was on? Rentrak, through its analysis of hundreds of thousands of households, has determined that NBC suffered a double whammy. (Please note — we now track more than 11 million homes.) First, heavy viewers watched a lot less of the network. And second, medium and light viewers to the network turned away in droves. Where did the viewers go? The biggest beneficiary in terms of stealing away NBC viewers was ESPN.

Using the Rentrak TV Essentials system, Rentrak statisticians pulled out 353,000 households that watched NBC Monday through Friday from 10 to 11 p.m. in October 2008, and then compared those same homes’ viewing patterns to NBC in the same time period in October 2009. In short, Rentrak looked at the viewing of the same NBC viewers for the Monday through Friday at 10 p.m. time slot across two years.

What happened? First, the average number of hours NBC viewers watched Monday through Friday from 10 to 11 p.m. dropped off, driven by heavy viewers, who fell off by almost two hours.

Chart 1While there was a slight uptick in hours watched by medium and light viewers, the actual number of those viewers fell dramatically (as shown below). The number of heavy NBC viewers fell by only 10 percent, while the number of medium and light viewers fell by 24 percent and 30 percent respectively.

Chart 2Where did the viewers go? The biggest overall beneficiary was ESPN, which got 28 percent more NBC viewers in October 2009 than in October 2008. Fox came in second with 20 percent (perhaps another reason why they are leaking talks about stealing Conan away). As reported in the trade press, TBS also did well, increasing reach among NBC viewers by 17 percent. The complete list of top 10 gainers is shown below.


I know it helps network programmers to understand what their heavy, medium, and light viewers contribute, and what other programs those viewers are watching. If one goal of today’s CEO is customer retention, understanding what your best customer might do is a good idea. And Rentrak, with its millions of homes and TVs, can make that kind of learning possible.


In case you don’t know, I am Bruce Goerlich, Chief Research Officer at Rentrak, the global standard in movie measurement and your TV Everywhere measurement and research company. I have been in the research end of the marketing business for more than 30 years primarily on the ad agency side, with my last stint prior to Rentrak in the role of President, Strategic Resources Zenith Optimedia North America. Somewhere along the way I morphed from young Turk to old fogey. Now that I have grey hair and am horizontally-challenged, I can speak with some authority on advertising and research issues – which I will do from time-to-time on this blog.


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