Study: Repeats Hurt ABC Ratings

Nov 28, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Abbey Klaassen

Advertising Age

Repeats of ABC hits “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” can drop the network’s weekly ratings by 15 percent, a recent analysis by media agency MediaVest shows.

Normally a weekly fluctuation wouldn’t catch the eye of the research team at MediaVest, but the week of Oct. 24 was different. ABC aired repeats of TV’s second- and third-highest-rated hits, and each retained less than 50 percent of their season-to-date original audience levels-far less than other drama repeats that week. The top-rated show season to date, CBS’s “CSI,” for example, boasted roughly 80 percent retention.

The value of this gap, MediaVest found, is roughly an average prime-time program on any of the three major networks-a 3.5 adult 18 to 49 rating. ABC’s hits are among the most expensive of the fall season. The average cost of a 30-second spot in “Desperate Housewives” is $439,499, while the same ad in “Lost” cost buyers $333,166, according to an Advertising Age survey in September.

And while low ratings for repeats of two of TV’s hottest shows is a problem, most networks would give their left programming arm to have such a variable ratings story. But it can cause buyers fits as they try to predict the network’s week-to-week ratings fluctuations.

A few weeks ago, for example, ABC programmed a repeat of “Lost” opposite a World Series game. The drama retained 37 percent of its season-to-date average audience.

“We were sure that was because of the [show’s] continuous story line, but also partly because of baseball,” said John Spiropolous, VP and director of group research for MediaVest. “Then the next week its ratings went down further. You have to stop and think, ‘OK, what’s going on here?'”

Such a drop in ratings is rare, mostly because their primary cause-heavily serialized story lines-is rare.

“‘Lost’ and ‘Desperate Housewives’ are just short of ‘Dallas’ and ‘Dynasty’ in terms of serialization,” said Tim Brooks, executive VP of research at Lifetime Television and co-author of “The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows.”

Instead, networks favored self-contained shows such as “CSI,” in which story lines generally wrap within the episode. “That gives [advertisers] a certain level of comfort,” Mr. Spiropolous said.

At MediaVest, Mr. Spiropolous has developed a research product called MCubed, which considers 12 weighted factors, to help predict such variances in serialized shows.

An ABC spokeswoman had no comment.

Agencies and networks calculate repeats into their ratings estimates and guarantees, respectively. So advertisers buying into the shows are likely get the total gross rating points they were expecting. But advertisers aren’t told during the upfront exactly when originals and repeats are scheduled-mostly because the networks don’t know exactly how they’re going to be scheduled-and ratings estimates don’t help the movie marketer who’s counting on a big Wednesday night splash on “Lost” to help fuel opening day sales.