Viewers Have an Appointment With Cable

May 9, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In a recent guest column in TVWeek (April 18), Television Bureau of Advertising President Chris Rohrs made the claim that cable’s hits, specifically FX’s award-winning dramas “The Shield,” “Nip/Tuck” and “Rescue Me,” did not qualify as “appointment television.” We believe Mr. Rohrs is flat wrong.

Mr. Rohrs’ position appears to be that appointment viewing is defined by just sheer numbers. We think a more accurate definition of appointment television is a show that draws a substantial percentage of viewers who come to the network for the purpose of tuning in to that specific show. Additionally, we believe appointment television shows post significant ratings gains versus their network’s prime-time average.

We’re also talking about first-run episodes, not reruns. Mr. Rohrs used data from the period of Sept. 20, 2004, to April 4, 2005, when “Nip/Tuck” and “Rescue Me” were almost entirely running in repeat cycles. Research analysis of FX’s three original dramas, when running in first-run cycles, paints an entirely different picture and proves their appointment value.

First-run episodes of “The Shield,” “Nip/Tuck” and “Rescue Me” on average draw 72 percent of their respective audiences from sources other than FX.

In delivery of adults 18 to 49, “Nip/Tuck,” “The Shield” and “Rescue Me” posted respective increases of 230 percent, 198 percent and 148 percent versus the benchmark of FX’s prime-time adult 18 to 49 average. This, incidentally, is a benchmark that rated FX sixth among 55 measured basic cable networks in calendar year 2004.

This spring, for the time frame in which original episodes of “The Shield” have run to date (March 15-April 26), “The Shield” is outdelivering almost 30 regularly scheduled broadcast series among adults 18 to 49.

During the summer and early fall of 2004, the first-run cycle of its second season, “Nip/Tuck’s” average adults 18 to 49 delivery ranked 34th out of 693 prime-time series that ran on measured commercial networks, both broadcast and cable. (This fact is based on a measurement of first-run series averages that more closely mirrors how advertising time is bought and sold, as opposed to the top 100 single-telecast list, which TVB chose to represent its point of view). Over the same period, “Rescue Me” ranked 47th among adults 18 to 49.

“The Shield,” “Nip/Tuck” and “Rescue Me” are, in fact, appointment television, and the numbers reflect their value. For that matter, other cable hits such as USA’s “The Dead Zone,” “Monk” and “The 4400”; “The Real World” and “Newlyweds” on MTV; Discovery’s “American Chopper”; and “South Park” and “Chappelle’s Show” on Comedy Central all qualify as appointment television. And the list is growing and growing. FX alone will launch four new series this summer, including “Over There,” the Iraq war drama from acclaimed producer Steven Bochco. Even TNT is getting back into the original series business.

In 1996 broadcast television held a 66 percent share of adults 18 to 49 in common prime time. Less than a decade later the broadcast networks combined share of adults 18 to 49 has dwindled to 48 percent. It declines every year. Conversely, ad-supported cable networks grow their audiences at rates superior to any in broadcast television. In 2004 FX alone grew its adults 18 to 49 audience by 20-plus percent, and 34 other ad-supported cable networks showed growth as well. Meanwhile, four of the six broadcasts networks showed declines.

We believe that demonstrates that quality, not merely tonnage, accounts for broadcast’s drastic decline. We believe that quality is also reflected by cable’s performance in the Golden Globes and Emmy Awards. The advent of quality series in basic cable is still in its infancy, dating back to 2002. In only three years basic cable has been invited to those ceremonies because of quality shows like “The Shield,” “Nip/Tuck,” “Monk,” “The Office” and “Rescue Me” as well as superb lead actors like Michael Chiklis, Tony Shalhoub, Bitty Schram, Ricky Gervais, Joely Richardson, Julian McMahon and Denis Leary. In two of the past three years shows on FX have won the Golden Globe for best drama series-“The Shield” in 2003 and “Nip/Tuck” in 2005.

Cable’s ability to deliver substantial and desirable audiences with “appointment television” is clearly undeniable.

Steve Leblang

Senior VP, strategic planning and research

FX Networks