What’s Engaging about TV Programs?

It’s been a busy couple of months, and I haven’t had a chance to write. So, as part of my Lenten discipline, I promise more timely blogs. I’m going to devote the next couple to looking at “engagement” in national TV programs.

“Engagement” is one of those words like “freedom.” Everybody is for it, everybody thinks it’s good, but there isn’t a single definition that everybody agrees on. At Rentrak we have two measures for “engagement.” The first one, which this piece is based on, deals with time spent viewing, or “stickiness.” That is, what is the average percentage of a program that is watched? This form of “engagement” is good, because studies have shown that if two people watch a half hour program that has an ad in the first 15 minutes, if one person just watches the first 15 minutes, and the other watches the full half hour, the half hour viewer is much more likely to recall the ad. (Frank Harrison at Zenith-Optimedia did some very good work in this area.) Therefore, programs with audiences that “stick to them” give a positive benefit to their advertisers.

I looked at Rentrak’s weekly reports on “engagement” for 2013 for both broadcast and cable programs. (Contact me if you want to get on the mailing list.) In this post, I am going to concentrate on broadcast. In the next blog, I’ll move on to cable, and then on to our second definition of “engagement” which involves social media.

A couple of interesting things pop out when we look at the “stickiest” shows for 2013, as the chart below shows.

Rentrak Stickines Index

First off, dramas are the kings of “stickiness.”* From cop shows to novellas, the audience stays throughout them. Over two thirds of the most engaging shows last year were dramas, where people like to stay around and see what happens. Storytelling goes back to our ancestral roots when we huddled around the fire in caves while the Shaman told tales of the battles between good and evil. And today, dramas provide a real benefit to advertisers.

Reality shows are second (please forgive me network clients), but they really are just dramas done on the cheap. Contests, where viewers want to find out who wins, are third, and the same phenomenon follows for sports. Although awards shows are not often in the top rankings, which is in large part because there aren’t that many of them in broadcast. We do know, however, that the big ones are there: “The Academy Awards,” “The Golden Globes,” “The Grammy Awards,” etc.

Another interesting fact about “stickiness” is the high proportion of Hispanic network programs that show up. Overall, 32 percent of the broadcast programs that showed up were Hispanic, but that percentage differed by genre as the graph below demonstrates.

Rentrak Stickiness Index

The categories where Hispanic programs did especially well were News, Review (e.g. movie and TV show reviews), Talk Shows, Variety and Awards shows. It should also be noted that in the largest “stickiness” category of dramas, 34% were Hispanic programs; the novellas hold their audience.

One final note, there is no direct relationship between “stickiness” and program rating. Rentrak’s weekly top “stickiness” report looks at the top 20 “stickiest” broadcast shows. Across the year, only 46 percent of the top 20 “stickiest” shows were also in the top 20 highest rated shows of that week. In short, a high rating does not guarantee a high level of “stickiness,” and a high level of “stickiness” doesn’t guarantee a high rating.

And I think that is a good thing. Both networks and advertisers need more than one metric to value a program. Sheer audience level is good, but so is a measure of “engagement.” Both sides can use these as leverage points in negotiations. And finding leverage is what media is all about.

Soon to follow will be a look at “stickiness” and cable programs.

_ _

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.

*The technical level of “stickiness” is determined by level of variance between average percentage viewed of the telecast to that of all telecasts of the same duration during Monday-Saturday primetime (8-11 p.m.) and Sunday primetime (7-11 p.m.).

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