Ratings that include 30 days of DVR-viewership, online viewing (Hulu, etc.), and VOD are rolling in now for the first week of the fall season back in September, and for Fox anyway, ratings for certain shows are growing exponentially. More specifically, once all those devices are taken into account, the premiere of Gotham reached a whopping 22.3 million viewers, as opposed to just the 8.3 million viewers who watched it overnight.
That’s huge. For comparison’s sake, that’s the low end of the ratings for a Friends episode back in the day, which suggests that — when everything else is accounted for — ratings for some shows today are just as robust as they were back in the ’90s before DVRs, On Demand, and online viewing cut deeply into overnight ratings. After all, Gotham isn’t even close to the highest-rated scripted show on network television. Wait until we see 30-day numbers for Big Bang Theory; we may end up seeing Seinfeld-like ratings.
A few other Fox shows also benefitted greatly from multi-platform viewing. Sleepy Hollow, for instance, was seen by 12.5 million viewers, more than double the overnight viewers (5.8 million viewers). Even slumping shows like New Girl and The Mindy Project don’t seem as bad once “non-linear” viewing is factored in: New Girl grew from 3 million viewers to 6.4 million viewers, while The Mindy Project grew from 2.7 to 4.8 million viewers.
Moreover, The Simpsons/Family Guy crossover episode had just as many views on Fox.com and Hulu as there were in the first three days of DVR/VOD viewing (it reached 14.8 million viewers, overall). Even the disappointing debut of Red Band Society (4.1 million) was seen by a more impressive 9.9 million viewers once non-linear viewing was accounted for.
On the other hand, by the third episode of Utopia, ratings had only increased 2 million to 3.2 million, which is probably why Fox finally decided to cancel it yesterday.
What does it mean? It means that, even though we’re not likely to stop reporting them because they give us our first, immediate impressions about how a show is doing, overnight Nielsen ratings really are meaningless. Moreover, it shows that network television is not shedding as many viewers as we once thought: It’s just dispersed onto other platforms, and the good news for the networks is that — on VOD and online viewing, anyway — commercials are still being watched.
Thirty-days ratings for the other networks should roll in over the next few days as well, and we will get a full picture of just how meaningless those overnight ratings really are in the coming days.