In New Zealand, as around the world, the amount of time spent watching linear TV is on the wane. So how have the five major free-to-air channels performed this year? And, with ondemand services continuing to grow (and with Fox following in the footsteps of cable networks HBO and FX and moving away from overnight ratings as industry currency in the US) is the current ratings system an accurate reflection of performance?
According to Nielsen data, overall time spent viewing of free to air TV is down around six percent year on year. And TV3 and TV2 are the channels that have been most affected, with TV One bucking the trend and increasing its audience.
Plenty of attention has been focused on MediaWorks this year, with everything from the Campbell Live saga to the more recent legal action from the 3D team after talk of its demise, and there's no doubt that has hurt the TV3 brand. That's reflected in the numbers. In all 5+ (all numbers based on peak viewing), TV3 is down year on year from average audience of 5.2 percent to 4.7 percent. In its target demographic of 25-54, it has dropped from 5.8 percent to 5.1 percent, although it's had a bit of a resurgence in October in both categories. Four has also lost audience, with the biggest dip saved for October.
“Overnight ratings are no longer a total reflection of how a programme performs," says Andrew Szusterman, group entertainment content director. "You have to take into account MyFreeview and MySky numbers, which are numbers that aren’t available until a week later, as well as the Video On Demand performance. Fox in the US have announced this week they aren’t releasing overnight ratings anymore for this very reason."
MediaWorks didn't provide any numbers for its ondemand service 3Now, but it has recently announced the addition of 3Now on Apple TV and chief information and product officer Tom Cotter says it's the first of many changes coming to 3Now.
In other MediaWorks news, the board has extended CEO Mark Weldon's contract and confirmed to StopPress that, as we suggested in an earlier feature, it will be closing its Hamilton accounting branch and “centralising finance into Auckland for operational reasons” (it’s thought there were around seven staff there and it’s not clear if any are moving north).
Just as politicians tend to keep quiet when the heat is on a competitor because they know their turn will probably come eventually, TVNZ has had a pretty good ride this year. But TV2 has lost the biggest chunk of audience of all the free-to-air channels and in its target demographic of 18-49, it's down from 7 percent to 5.7 percent, while all 5+ is down from 5.8 percent to 4.8 percent.
TV One was far and away the best performer, with the channel increasing its 25-54 audience from 6.4 percent last year to 6.7 percent this year. In all 5+, it's up from 9.5 percent to 9.9 percent. No wonder it's recently been promoting the seemingly untapped bounty of New Zealand's old folk to advertisers, because, as some have pointed out, they seem to be the ones who are happy to keep watching linear TV.
“Our combined TV One and TV2 audience share is up year-on-year, and TV One has been the driver here with TV2 experiencing some declines,” says director of content Jeff Latch.
Data from Nielsen's multi-screen report
He says some of the audience has shifted to viewing on other platforms, including its own OnDemand service, and the Top 20 shows on TVNZ OnDemand are all soaps, comedies and dramas, which predominantly play out on TV2.
“So this really is about TVNZ embracing video and being increasingly agnostic as to the delivery platform. How we measure that in the future is something we will continue to look at.”
TVNZ has managed to get 900,000 users to register for TVNZ Ondemand since relaunching in February. And Latch says it will release a large collection of new international comedy, drama and factual titles exclusively online this summer – more than 40 series in all.
TVNZ OnDemand’s watchlists will also automatically update with new episodes of favourited shows and push notifications to mobile devices will also be available.
The app is now on PlayStation3 and PlayStation4 and in December it will also be available in the Windows Store for those who have Windows 10 on their PC or tablet.
As for Sky's free-to-air channel, Prime, it has remained firm year on year, with its all 5+ audience declining slightly from 1.8 percent to 1.6 percent. Must be that MediaWorks'-produced news propping up the numbers.
As for the whether these numbers do justice to the way people consume video, Fox made the decision to move away from overnights because "within a week, more than one-third of the youthful audience that watched a given Fox show saw it after the night it first aired". So will New Zealand follow in the footsteps of the US networks?
“At present in New Zealand overnight ratings information is still of great value to both networks and advertisers because of the compelling numbers of people still using television here, so from TVNZ’s perspective we have no immediate plans to move away from using overnight and consolidated ratings,” says Latch. "The changes currently happening in the US are based on a slightly different model but certainly something that we are watching with interest. We embrace the fact that we are working in a very dynamic marketplace and we will have to look to the smartest ways of measuring cross platform, real time and delayed content consumption. What this will look like is yet to be determined."