CNN’s RATINGS DEBATE – Are its releases fair about their Debate ratings or is the Media right about the ratings performance?
Television Ratings can be a tricky business, because like all statistics, you can manipulate ratings within time periods and what we call “dayparts” in television with the Nielsen overnights to try to skew audience ratings to the advantage to a particular network or channel (no, don’t get me started on the difference between a network or channel, there is a difference).
However, you would hope, during a non “sweeps” period, with a new format designed to engage Americans that CNN would not only be bold enough to try the YouTube Presidential Debate Format, but also detail fair, overnight ratings information as well so that the media could analyze not only from a programming perspective, but from a ratings perspective, was the initiative a success.
There are many determinations one must take into consideration when you look at ratings information from a press release. Does it give all demographic breakouts that television executives recognize – Total Audience (2+), Adults 18-34, Adults 18-49, Adults 25-54 and Adults 18+. In many instances, information is also given also for those same “demos” separately in Men and Women.
Competition in the time period is examined. HUT Levels (Homes Using Television) – simply put the amount of sets turned on during a time period or daypart – I’m not going to get too complicated here. PVT Levels (People Viewing Television) – again in simple terms the amount of people in a demographic watching at a particular time period. Time of year – the aforementioned fluctuate greatly, thus affecting ratings. Time of day – the aforementioned fluctuate greatly. The amount of promotion, advertising and the target audience appeal all can affect the total audience rating. That is why some programs skew 50+ and have a very high Household rating (television does quite well with older viewers on average). Some programs have a much smaller Household rating, but if you look at its demographic ratings, they can be quite impressive as they reach younger viewers which can be quite hard to do in television – younger viewers just don’t watch a lot of television – they are elusive and hard to reach.
This is what CNN was trying to convey in its press release. While its overall viewership was down in comparison to the June, 2007 debate, they were able to attract young viewers, the so-called “disenfranchised” who don’t vote. And, there is much to take into consideration about the rest of its ratings performance, just from a superficial standpoint.
•Early June HUT Levels are higher than late July.
•Sunday HUT Levels and Viewership levels are higher than Monday. In fact Monday is one of the lowest viewership and HUT level nights of the week, other than Friday and Saturday.
•The decreases in audiences – 2+*, 25-54* and 18-49* can be attributed to these fluctuations in HUT levels, competition in the time period, the weakness of Monday versus Sunday, the summer run versus the other fall runs, the earliness of the “debate” with several candidates versus the much later dates for ALL the higher rated debates. YouTube Debate in the Nielsen Ranking ranked 9th in 18-34 year olds with 407,000 from a ranking that was published today (July 25, 2007) in TV Newser/Inside Cable News.
•Airing at 7PM versus all other debates airing at 9PM is a very unfair comparison, particularly summer versus fall. Audience levels are at their highest at around 9:15PM. At 7PM, even on the East coast, they are barely at primetime strength, and then add in the West coast being compiled at a 4PM Hut Level. All other debates ahead of YouTube aired at 9PM, East Coast Time - makes a huge difference in television ratings.
•Now, the gain of Adults 18-34 press release that got so hammered - to gain 10%* in Adults 18-34, that is no easy feat with all of the above, and the fact that it is one of the most fickle, elusive, difficult audiences to attract – particularly on a news channel. Going against all of the odds above that is a plus and no statistical error.
•It does happen sometimes in television that when you put a television program on that appeals more to the 18-34 demographic, you can lose 18+ audience overall - that is the way of television - the older demos sometimes just don't think it's a program for them so they tune out. There are any number of reasons why the 18+ and 25-54 declined. Unless I see the raw data and HUT/PVT levels, it is hard to make a true educated guess. And let's face it, CNN promoted it as a "YouTube" experience. Perhaps some 18+ didn't feel it was for them; or it's a looonng debate season.
•In all cases, all debates that rated higher than the You Tube Debate, I would consider “Final” debates as they aired in the closing weeks of the campaign coming up to the Presidential election Vote either in 2000 (1) or 2004 (7) – all very unfair comparisons – there was much more voter interest.
* I can only use the ratings available on the websites and don’t know if they are final numbers that include Nielsen DVR compilations – thus the final actuals. Nielsen had no DVR additions in 2004 or in 2000.
CNN Audience Actual Audience Performance as lifted from websites, courtesy of Nielsen Media Research:
July 23, 2007:
June 3, 2007:
Now we can debate rating research all day long since I don’t have access to CNN’s research and how they derived their numbers for release. But just on the surface anyone with a strong television ratings research background can see the unfairness of these websites. They don’t have the skill to analyze the information, nor do they know the questions to ask CNN if they really want to hold their “feet to the fire.” Be fair. Has CNN boasted a little, perhaps. Have they justified why they have fallen from the June 3rd airing, no. Should they – well yes, but some senior management refuses to let material go out that isn’t flattering. I come from the school that you position and frame the story the best you can without being misleading. CNN can do that without creating the grumbling and inflammatory language that is on some of these websites. Language that I might add is completely uneducated in research and is just anxious for the opportunity to complain.
Let’s remember what the true purpose of the “Debate” was – a discourse of the American public with the Democratic candidates. Should the media cover it and give it attention and critique it – so be it. But at least use qualified television research people to analyze the ratings with knowledge of the ratings system so that readers have real perspective – otherwise you are just creating internet chatter that is meaningless.