SOMETIMES you just have to take the good news with the bad. This year the Ten Network has had a lot of practice dealing with bad news.
Take the performance of the excellent US legal-political-domestic drama The Good Wife. The episode that aired on October 17 was watched by a mere 343,000 viewers, a seriously disappointing result for a prime-time drama. But a week later, Ten was able to share the good news that a further 182,000 people had watched the show in the following seven days, giving it a 53 per cent audience boost to an almost-acceptable 525,000 viewers.
If you needed proof time-shifting plays havoc with the TV schedule, this was it.
And Ten has no shortage of proof. Across its second season, Homeland has averaged a 25 per cent boost on consolidated viewer numbers (those who watch a program within seven days of its initial broadcast). Puberty Blues averaged 20 per cent over its season, Offspring 21 per cent. That episode of The Good Wife was an anomaly, but not by much. Throughout this season it has picked up an additional 30 per cent a week through time-shifting.
Ten is not unique in this respect, but the fact its programming draws a younger and more tech-savvy audience means it is more exposed to the change in viewing patterns – and not just in ”official” time-shifting, either. When Ten ran two back-to-back episodes of Homeland a few weeks ago, it did so largely to cut the gap between the show’s US airdate and its local screening (down from 13 days to six) in a bid to discourage illegal downloads.
BitTorrent is the bane of the broadcasters’ existence, but the internet and other digital distribution platforms may yet offer them salvation.
The challenge, though, is in monitoring the audiences attracted to their content through sanctioned channels (their own catch-up services) and monetising it – that is, delivering a real and measurable audience to the advertisers.
Having an audience that watches advertising is at the heart of the commercial free-to-air television model, and downloading and time-shifting pose serious threats.
The ratings agency OzTAM has tracked time-shifted viewing since late 2009, when 4.5 per cent of viewing in the 3035 households in its national database was done outside live viewing. In its most recent report, which was due to be released last week, that figure has risen to 6.77 per cent.
The real challenge, though, is the viewers outside the box, so next year OzTAM will begin to monitor the online activity of a small subsection of its sample. In 350 of the homes in its database, the viewing of TV content online will be monitored. Nine is also developing its own in-house system, called IRIS. It aims to track viewer activity online as they watch TV, in a bid to deliver more targeted information to advertisers about the effectiveness of their campaigns. It will be a case of Big Brother watching you watching Big Brother, and posting about it on Twitter.
And given that three-quarters of people are now using a secondary screen – a smartphone, tablet or laptop – while watching television, you can be sure Nine won’t be alone for long.
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