Magna Sees Syndication Edge

Apr 11, 2007  •  Post A Comment

A new report from a major advertising buyer confirms some of what syndicators have been saying: That their shows stand up well when ratings change to measure viewers of commercials rather than just viewers of programs.
“Syndication generally has much better commercial-minute audience retention than either prime-time broadcast or cable,” said Steve Sternberg, executive VP of audience analysis at Magna Global.
Some syndicated shows were real stars. “Oprah Winfrey,” “Dr. Phil,” “Judge Alex” and “Wheel of Fortune” all had 100 percent commercial-pod indexes, which means virtually no viewers left the shows during breaks. All of the syndicated programs the agency looked at retained at least 95 percent of their audiences.
In this year’s upfront ad-sales market, some deals will be built on a new Nielsen Media Research measure of average commercial-minute ratings. In that scheme, programs that hold viewers through breaks will attract additional ad dollars, while shows that lose viewers will be less desirable.
Magna Global has been tracking audiences during commercial pods for three years and has found fairly stable results. For broadcast, the falloff from program ratings to commercial ratings was 7 percent for the third year running. CBS held onto 94 percent of its audience, while ABC, NBC and Fox held 93 percent. The CW held 91 percent of its viewers during commercial breaks.
On broadcast, procedural dramas tended to keep the strongest hold on their audiences through commercials. Having long program segments and short commercial pods also helped retain audiences.
The report found the shows with the highest audience retention through commercials also tended to attract the viewers most likely to watch commercials during playback on digital video recorders. Viewers of comedies tended to watch a higher proportion of commercials during playback than drama viewers.
CBS had the least commercial skipping during DVR playback, while The CW had the most.
For cable, the average was 10 percent, although there were big differences among the cable networks.
Court TV, for example, is holding 96 percent of its audience through commercial breaks this season, just as it did last season. Cartoon Network, Lifetime and A&E also held 96 percent of their viewers through breaks, marking big increases for those networks.
Among the networks measured in the Magna report, CNBC held onto the fewest viewers, with 82 percent retention. E! and Discovery held onto just 84 percent of their viewers.
The Magna report said syndication had an advantage because its shows tend to have fewer commercials. It also notes that with many syndicated shows not airing in prime time, they face less competition for viewers who might be inclined to channel-surf.
The first minute in a commercial pod on broadcast garnered ratings about 3 percent higher than the overall pod. For cable it was about 6 percent higher. That makes the first slot in a commercial pod—called the A position—valuable real estate.
But on cable, that A position mostly went to network promos. Some networks gave 90 percent of A position to promos. On broadcast, NBC had the most promos in the A position with 27 percent, followed by ABC at 13 percent.
Which advertisers tend to get the A position? At ABC, it’s auto makers. CBS favors pharmaceuticals. NBC was sweet to telecom and wireless providers, while Fox gave its best to the movie studios. The CW also treated wireless companies best.
On cable, the top categories landing spots in the A position were automotive and credit cards/financial services, followed by theatrical movies and over-the-counter drugs and vitamins.
Magna conducted its analysis by recording and timing 60 prime-time programs on the broadcast networks and examining one episode per month of each show from November 2006 through February 2007. It then matched its log of when commercials appeared to the minute-by-minute data from Nielsen’s NPower system.


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