Since I've been in TV, there have been some pretty fundamental changes. In my personal case there's the straightforward but dramatic (I used to have lots of hair). In the professional there's the more complicated but equally momentous. When I first started out, there were two options for watching TV - either switch on to the linear transmission, or set the video recorder. The former assumed you would fit your life round the TV schedule, the other required a degree in applied mathematics. So in a sense, both meant you couldn’t really have a social life.
Over the years there have been a range of innovations which have liberated our TV viewing. There’s the launch of digital and the resulting explosion of multichannel TV. Soon after, the introduction of PVRs like Sky+ enabled viewers to create their own “best of” channels, with content drawn from across the schedule. And more recently we’ve seen viewing move increasingly online, on mobile and on demand.
Most of these innovations have been about increasing customers’ control and convenience, but we’ve also seen real enhancements to what content looks like, through incredible High Definition and, more recently, 3D. Amazing stuff, even if you’re not Professor Heinz Woolf and are just a normal viewer who loves TV.
But as a channel director, what I’m really interested in is understanding how to measure and evaluate the success of shows in this new digital world. Not only have audiences fragmented to new screens and platforms, but also new times and days of the week. The good news is that none of us are having to make unreasonable demands on customers, like asking them all to sit in front of their TVs at exactly the same time, week after week. But the flipside is that it’s pretty tricky to gauge just how well a show is doing with customers.
As you can see from the handy example of episode 1 of our recent brilliantly disgraceful Sky 1 HD drama Mad Dogs, our viewers have really embraced all the new opportunities that we’ve offered them, whether it's the premiere linear transmission, Sky+ viewing, Sky Anytime, Sky Player or in HD.
What the figures show us above all is that the currency of overnight ratings as measure of success is becoming increasing devalued. With Mad Dogs we saw a total linear audience on 817,000 for its live premiere across satellite and cable. Pretty good. But when looking at the consolidated numbers across a seven day period, you can see that the actual audience was more than 2.2 million, approaching three times the overnight number.
And when you take a channel like Sky Atlantic HD, for instance, 43 percent of viewing is done non-live. In this context, it seems just absurd and actually a bit thick to just look at how the shows rate on an overnight.
This means that, at Sky, we’ve long since dispensed with the overnights as a measure of how well we’re meeting the demand of our viewers, although for some in the free-to-air world or some commentators it remains a preoccupation. Our view is that we’ve given our customers the opportunity to define their own schedules, and we therefore need to have measurement models which properly reflect the changing behaviours of our customers. We don’t want to be in a position where viewers are one step ahead of the rest of us.