CBS Seeks Ratings Swell Through Out-Of-Home Viewership



The process through which Nielsen has monitored viewership has always had its limitations. The company has been able to extrapolate serviceable data from “Nielsen Families” for decades, all the while researching new ways to create a more comprehensive metric for viewership. Over the years, viewing habits have changed drastically. These changes range from the dissolution of the nuclear family and the emergence of non-linear television viewing in the form of mobile phones and streaming services. A consequence of these changes has been a drastic decrease in viewership which does not bode well for networks looking to boost ad revenue. As of fall 2019, CBS has announced that it will be the first network to monitor “out of home” viewership which accounts for screens in a variety of public and private venues. This big change comes in the wake of the CBS deal with NBC to switch their 2021 and 2022 Superbowl telecasts.

This new move by CBS and Nielsen is bound to bring about changes to the standard tv rating model. According to a Variety article on the new deal, “only 10 primetime broadcast shows in the 2018-2019 TV season mustered an increase in levels of viewership by people between 18 and 49, the demographic most coveted by advertisers in scripted programming.” These figures have created pressure to search for new ways to increase these numbers. Out-of-home measurements are not an unprecedented practice. As early as 2008, Nielsen had been working on producing non-linear TV measurements. By 2017, Nielsen had produced figures sourced from several major cities that suggested an upward trend in total viewership, particularly with millennial and gen Z viewers. Out-of-home viewing has typically been used to measure sports broadcast due to their viewing popularity in places like restaurants, bars, and viewing parties in homes. According to Nielsen, Superbowl LIII added 12 million viewers with out-of-home measurements. This is a significant increase in viewership for the most viewed television broadcast each year. The Superbowl serves as a prime example of the relationship between viewership and ad space. Advertisers battle it out for a spot in the broadcast. It also gives us the strange phenomenon in which people eagerly anticipate advertisements. Although CBS’s inclusion of out-of-home viewership seems to be aligned with its Superbowl deal, the move will no doubt bring about change within network and cable television.

The compelling aspect of measuring out-of-home viewing habits is the effect it will have on the current decline in viewership under the standard ratings model. There has yet to be comprehensive figures for out-of-home viewership of popular network television shows. Under Nielsen’s “Total Audience Framework”, out-of-home viewing is claimed to be a significant portion of total viewership, particularly with millennials and generation Z viewers. Nielsen points to 3 significant events that saw an uptick in viewership under the out-of-home metric. These events include the James Comey hearing, the presidential inauguration, and the OJ Simpson parole hearing. As it stands, these out-of-home figures are oriented towards particular events that do not account for the majority of programming on network television. There is a clear emphasis on the viewing habits of younger viewers and a decline in emphasis on boomer viewing trends. The millennial and generation Z viewers are considered to be “on-the-go” and their viewing habits reflect this behavior. With this new metric, CBS could increase its viewership figures, thus increasing its ad revenue. It seems like an obvious solution, but advertisers aren’t exactly all-in when it comes to out-of-home ratings.

According to a Forbes article on the subject, there are differing opinions on audience receptiveness to advertisements in settings outside the home. Viewers may be more distracted with social interaction in settings like bars and restaurants which may cause them to be less receptive to advertisements. Conversely, some social settings might actually increase the discussion of advertisements. Advertisers must consider the retention possible in specific out-of-home viewing environments. Moving forward, networks pushing for out-of-home viewing metrics must present a compelling argument for their shows’ ability to increase ad retention in environments that aren’t necessarily conducive to ad viewing. Nielsen first announced their out-of-home viewing measurements in 2016. Fox, ABC, ESPN, and CBS were some of the first networks to sign up due to the new measurements promising viewership figures. The most popular out-of-home content to view seems to be live news events, sports, and award shows. With this new move by CBS, it will be interesting to see if there are significant upticks in viewership of popular programming. Will your favorite evening drama benefit from this change? The answer isn’t clear.

It is unclear if CBS and other television networks will successfully integrate out-of-home viewership into their ad deals. It’s not far-fetched to anticipate the success of live news events, sports, and award shows. Daytime television may see an increase in viewership due to its occurrence during work hours when many people are out of the house. This leaves a large block of evening content when most primetime television shows occur. When thinking of dwindling in-home ratings, there is building pressure to find new ways to increase viewership and ad revenue. The future holds further changes in viewing habits that no longer are family-forward. The creation of the Nielsen Family occurred during a time when family units were the norm. Our current context has less families and more dynamic viewing habits constantly stimulated by screens in a multitude of different environments. This understanding, which Nielsen is aware of, is being integrated into their Total Audience Framework. We may see the dissolution of the Nielsen family and a new framework that focuses on the viewing habits of younger generations who are less family oriented and on-the-go.

The performance of CBS’s out-of-home ratings will set the tone for ad agencies and television networks alike. Within CBS, further expansion of this measurement may be considered if their Super Bowl broadcast exceeds expectations. When considering primetime content, particularly shows with POC leads, it is not difficult to see how these shows could benefit from a more comprehensive measurement. In-home ratings depict only a portion of viewership. A show may have a faithful following but may not hit the number required to be compelling to ad agencies. This scenario often spells the end for shows that are otherwise well received by viewers and critics. As of late, shows with diverse casts have proven to be significant money makers. Ironically, none of the upcoming CBS shows star a person of color. Despite this, the inclusion of out-of-home measurements may reinforce the monetary and cultural relevance of diverse television shows. These out-of-home measurements would include a greater amount of millennial and generation Z viewers who have been highly receptive to diverse programming. This may lead to an overall positive impact on television series featuring people of color. The prioritization of millennial viewing habits could cause a spike in ratings for television series starring people of color. The next couple of years will see great change within the television ratings industry. Out-of-home measurements have the potential to play a significant role in ad revenue for network and cable television should it prove to be worthwhile for ad agencies.