About Those Ratings…

Back before COVID-19 sequestered the world into their homes, I was arguing my thoughts when it came to the entire protest movement, starting with kneeling in the NFL® in regards to TV viewership ratings and the cumulative effects it will have on advertisers and the rates they pay.

Now, whether or not you agree with the protests is not part of this discussion, and never has. That’s your right, and personally, have no qualms with what ever side you choose. Again, that’s your personal decision.

However, what I am discussing here is the business aspect (which is all I’ll ever do) to all of it, and what it means. Yet, back during the original period, I was lambasted for not including in my ratings thesis the effects that streaming, cord-cutting, and other metrics were having on the numbers. Here’s what I said back then, to reiterate, back in 2015. To wit:

The catchphrase that seems to be picking up more and more steam is “cutting the cord” when referring to those that are dropping traditional cable TV for viewing choices or alternatives by other means. The reasons why differ greatly. For some its price, or affordability. For others, its convenience with the growing numbers of alternatives. And for some; they just refuse to pay for anything in a zealot like fashion. Although each group has different reasons the outcome is the same: diminishing viewership.

However, is “cutting the cord” really the reason for ESPN’s loss of millions viewers? Or, is that the easiest crutch of an excuse for what might really be happening? After all, media is, and always will be, the king of “inflated” numbers. So much so I garner when a CEO of any media company reads a term like “double seasonally adjusted” they smirk and think – “Rookies.”

It’s just the way it has, is, and will be played; and everyone understands it. None more so than those within the business itself, which is why a few things struck me.

Why wouldn’t ESPN™ (or Disney™ its parent company) go to great efforts to include or push the narrative that “cord cutting” doesn’t necessarily mean “all” that cut have tuned off? In other words: why aren’t numbers from alternative viewing sources highlighted as to show they might not be viewing there – but they are over here? Unless – they aren’t.

And if they’re not – why not? After all, there’s probably no other content infringement policing company for copyright and other applicable ownership rights than Disney and all its subsidiaries. You aren’t going to see it for free or on alternative platforms unless they want or allow for it. Period.

This would also imply if they allowed it (anywhere) it would be accounted for ( i.e., click views, etc.) in some manner of form from across the internet to help take the edge off. i.e., Sure we lost millions from cable, but as you can see here, they’ve just migrated over to this service/platform as an alternative. Monetizing the alternative is a work in progress. etc., etc.

However, that seems not to be the case. The case appears – they’ve not only cut: they’ve tuned out or turned off the programming entirely.

“ESPN: Cutting The Cord or Political Turnoff?” September, 2015

Since then (i.e., six years hence) that insight has shown to be far more prescient than it was ever given credit. Over these subsequent years, the idea that putting more political messaging into broadcasting was seen as a net neutral affair from a business bottom line perspective, yet, was good for goodwill messaging to show the brand “cared.” That has now proven itself to have far worse negative and damaging consequences. i.e. the ratings (e.g., how these events, stars, athletes, and more get paid) have been tumbling into the abyss ever since.

Now here’s why this latest is so instructive. e.g., The Grammys®.

The Grammys drew an ever lower rating this year than the year prior of 2020, (in 2020 viewership was 18.7 million as compared to the prior at just under 20 million in 2019) which was worse than the prior before that and so on, and so forth.

It wasn’t all that long ago when 30+, nearing 40 million, was the norm. Then, much like ESPN, and around the same period, circa 2013/14 – it went political.

Just a tad at first (again, much like ESPN and others). But, over the years? It’s now become full blown political commentary with a song or two thrown in amongst the commercials. This year seems to have taken all of it to even new levels of extremes with actors portraying protest shootings, riot burning streets for a backdrop, and more.

And the ratings? Here’s why the above is needed for context…

In the year of complete lock-downs, globally, where everyone is basically forced to either partake in watching the world through a screen – or stare at the walls – The Grammys’ ratings not only couldn’t remain near the latest worst ratings with a captured audience, rather, they plummeted an additional 53% from those prior dismal numbers to a level that’s not even close enough to spin up to a ten or two figured one. i.e., 10.

And trust me when I tell you. If they could have without blatantly looking like their trying to spin it a bit too much? (exp. 9.6 to 10. etc.) Then 10 is all you’d see reported. But they can’t.

It’s 8.8 million.

8.8 is the equivalent of a world away from 10, not a rounding error. Why this matters? Because its potential advertisers they’re trying to spin, not viewers.

And advertisers know better, for they’ll work mercilessly to cut down inflated numbers to better the contracts. In other words – they know the game and understand spin as well as anyone, but push it too far, and their push-back is more like an excavator to an ant hill built on “high hopes” for better rates.

Now, here’s why the above is even more relevant to my initial argument six years ago…

Today, that 8.8 million: includes all the streaming numbers!

In other words, as dismal as they were, these numbers now include a global audience that could watch from anywhere in the world via streaming. Now, supposedly, streaming is where “all the cool kids now hang” while they’re also, globally, stuck indoors. And without looking at a screen? They’re left to staring at the walls.

And, by what the numbers are showing? They decided to take the latter as better entertainment.

As I always say: To many, what I see over the horizon many times sounds like crazy talk, and I get that. Because, to them – where I’m standing is already far beyond their horizon of possibilities.

Yet, here we are.

© 2021 Mark St.Cyr