Well, it depends who you ask.
For almost a decade, the most watched show on TV was Fox’s American Idol. It was, as the phrase goes, a ratings juggernaut. But that was before the days of DVR’s, hulu, and watching things on demand.
According to this article in Sunday’s The New York Times, American Idol’s reign of terror is now over, ratings this season have fallen to all time low — and then you factor in “time-shift” viewing. “Time-shift” refers to watching a show after it has officially aired, using things like DVR’s, hulu, and on demand. The new show that all the cool advertisers want to play with is……(drumroll)….. Modern Family. So if you’re in a crowd and it seems like everyone else is talking about Modern Family, you’re probably right.
This is of course in the most desirable of demographics, 18-40 year olds. It turns out that the first day viewings of Modern Family within that demo are 7.1 million. However, when you factor in additional viewings within seven days, and that number goes up to 10.2, an additional 3.1 million.
“On behalf of all the comedies that were wiped out by ‘Idol’ over the past 10 years, it’s very gratifying,” said Steve Levitan, one of the creators of “Modern Family.”
And looking at the overall numbers, aka people under 18 and over 49, NCIS will most likely beat American Idol. Of course, advertisers care most about the time-shift views within the first 3 days of initial airing. This is mostly due to the fact that any messaging in the ads might be time sensitive, so watching much later could dilute the impact of the advertising. In addition, there is the thought that people who watch the shows later on, are more attentive to what they’re watching.
“We do like viewing in the playback mode,” said Tim Spengler, the global chief executive of the media-buying firm Magna Global. “We’re finding that the viewers are more attentive. They are less distracted. They have picked a time when they have the opportunity for more engagement than they would have if their kids were bugging them or they had three things to do at once.”
American Idol might be losing some of its mojo, but some of Fox’s other shows are benefiting from time-shift viewing: older shows like House and Glee as well as new shows New Girl and Alcatraz. Grey’s Anatomy and The Office are also reaping the higher ratings this way.
While advertisers and networks are figuring out that there is power in watching shows after they air, that realization still hasn’t vanquished the power of the all mighty “overnights”, the immediate ratings following the original airing. I can only hope that things change, and soon because I don’t know if time-shift viewing could save any program – I’m looking at you Community, Parks and Rec, Fringe – but I have to hope.