Where Are the numbers?

December 3, 2015

Do you watch The Leftovers? If you do, you appear to be part of a select group: live + same day measurements for the sophomore show reveal an average of just 640,000 viewers. Yet it is a sophisticated, beautiful show, with a highly-connected and vocal following. So how do we square that circle?

The Leftovers is just one show whose presence couldn’t be justified on broadcast TV, but that has new life in the brave new world of OTT.  Heck, House of Cards was offered to traditional media before Netflix, and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was an NBC show that got moved off the schedule before it aired a single episode, and Longmire moved online after a season in which its audience numbers went up.

Today’s reality is that real money is being generated through streaming premium video, with a great deal of it being pulled in by subscription services. For a subscription service, there is a different audience dynamic – they don’t need 20 million viewers in one place at one time to consume a single, high-value and high-cost, ad.  Rather, they need the tent poles that keep subscribers sufficiently engaged that they keep coming back for more. We know that, while half of Americans have SVOD services, fully a third of them watch 5 or less hours per week, which tends to imply they don’t need the sort of full schedule a broadcast network needs to continually put out there. Ask yourself: can you really get to the point where there’s nothing left to watch on HBO Now, or Netflix, or Amazon? The answer is almost certainly: only if what you haven’t watched doesn’t appeal, or if there’s nothing new coming out soon that does.

So how do you do deals for shows that maybe don’t have the mass appeal of MASH or Friends or even The Walking Dead, but will create an engaged, committed audience who continue to pay their monthly subscription? Lionsgate TV President Sandra Stern recently summed it up by saying “there is no science” in doing deals. Her point, really, is not that the accountants and lawyers and actuaries don’t do the math; rather, it is that there is no good data to work with in a new space, so each deal is being cut based on the basis of a being A First.  Clearly, this is unsustainable – eventually, every deal will be a re-play of something already ingrained into the industry.

But for that to work, there needs to be an agreed-upon set of standards, of metrics, of definitions of what makes one offering more or less valuable than any other. Predictably, Nielsen is trying to solve for this, although it’s not clear that adding more subjects to its sample sizes will make that much difference (when you start at an n of 40,000, incrementing the n does little for the statistical outcome, according to the mathematicians). Perhaps the most intriguing quote from the interview with Ms Stern is when she notes that “L+SD [Live plus same day ratings] provides an incomplete  measure of total audience”. Sure enough, the value of a show is no longer defined by the size of the crowd gathered around the TV, but by the enduring nature of the audience’s commitment over time: setting the table through the launch and first-run is what creates the desire to binge-watch, which is key to attracting advertising-desired demographics.

There’s a lot of work going on even now to try and come up with the standards and metrics that will define the accurate measurement of premium video going forward, not least through the Streaming Video Alliance, of which Conviva is very proud to be a member. Conviva is also in the process of working with leading companies to define the needs, wants, and hopes of the industry. With a deep backdrop of data from hundreds of billions of streams, and the input of our two dozen or so Data Scientists, we believe in our ability to connect experience and engagement metrics directly to the audience metrics that are at the heart of knowing one has optimized for the key KPI: getting more viewers to watch more.