Blog: Trump, baseball and sunshine drove down fall 2016 viewing

Julie McIlroy, co-founder, M&K Media, details the 4% drop in viewing seen on Canadian screens.

By: Julie McIlroy

Are this fall’s TV ratings a one-time anomaly fueled by special events and a tweak in measurement, or the start of a trend? The 2016 fall TV ratings are in and according to Numeris, PPM overall national hours tuned for people 2+ in Canada beginning Aug. 29 and for the 15 weeks following are down 4% versus the same period in 2015.

This is a substantial drop compared with the previous four years where audience erosion has been less apparent overall. We first noticed a rating shortfall in November when the October confirmed ratings were published. Our initial investigations into the October ratings shortfall pointed to viewing being highly disrupted by a few factors:

1. Canada’s baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays, reaching the playoffs siphoned off conventional ratings during their run to reach the World Series.

2. American stations covering the U.S. election saw dramatic increases in tuning by Canadian viewers. Across the board, Canadians tuning into U.S. stations was up for both conventional and, more notably, specialty. CNN was up Copied from Playback - Copied from Media in Canada - Copied from Playback - Copied from Media in Canada - Copied from Playback - Copied from Media in Canada - Copied from Playback - Copied from Media in Canada - Copied from Playback - Copied from Media in Canada - Copied from Playback - Copied from Media in Canada - Copied from Playback - Copied from Media in Canada - Copied from Playback - Copied from Media in Canada - Copied from Playback - red tvconsiderably. The week of the election saw total U.S. cable viewing up an astonishing 34% and the weeks leading up to the election were also well above normal.

3. Good weather enjoyed across Canada this fall meant that more people were outside rather than inside with their TVs on.

However, the downward trend was not just isolated to October and we did continue to see audience declines throughout November and the first two weeks of December. When we took a closer look at the numbers we saw that the decreases were not uniform across station type groups.

1. Canadian specialty viewing was down an alarming 9% year-over-year despite some specialty sports stations doing relatively well.

2. Conventional TV was less impacted overall (down 2%) but also experienced some significant decline, notably in primetime.

3. Canadian digital was up 10% while pay TV was down 28%.

4. Canadian viewing to U.S. conventional was down 2%, but as noted, Canadian U.S. specialty viewing was up an overall 14%.

It is also important to note that as of Aug. 29, 2016 Numeris TV audience measurement had a methodology change. The TV universe was expanded to include households that stream programming solely via their computer devices (i.e. have no access to live broadcast TV). Numeris simulated the effects of these changes and projected overall variances by market of between +/- 0.6% to 2.5% VSYA (average -1.6%). The TV suppliers are still investigating on their end to see if this contributed as well to their fall 2016 audience declines.

It is interesting – and probably comes as no surprise – that the audience erosion this fall has been more predominant in the 25-to-34 year-old age group, and likewise it is no surprise that we see digital video (e.g. YouTube) consumption rates on the rise especially amongst this demo.

The fall 2016 audience erosion certainly does not mean the sky is falling for TV viewership, but it does send up additional red flags. We all know that TV viewing has changed and will continue to change moving forward. Numeris audience measurement has shown that hitherto the declines have been less than we would suspect and that TV viewing has remained surprisingly strong. Yet we do know cord-cutting and streaming services like Netflix and CraveTV eat into the traditional viewing patterns.

Is the fall 2016 drop in viewing the beginning of an accelerated rate of decline, or is this a one-time anomaly and we will revert back to a slower pace of change? Certainly the next few ratings periods will be telling and we will be paying very close attention. Meanwhile, make sure that your 2017 TV buys are using adjusted estimates that take into account the declines, and look to secure compensation for 2016 where warranted. Not all stations and shows saw declines and we still had very good post buys in spite of the overall declines. Also, it’s pretty safe to say that big events create disruptive viewing and that we should be prepared to intervene early to work with stations to ensure our TV buys are delivering the audiences as we planned them.

Julie McIlroy is a founding co-partner of M&K Media.