Sports, Movies and Appointment Viewing

By Doug Pulick NCM Archives

A week or so ago as I was flying into Chicago, and arriving scant hours after their most recent snowfall I was feverishly and futilely working on finalizing my March Madness bracket picks for the office pool. And just a few weeks earlier, I was on the Florida west coast catching a pair of Yankee games in the grapefruit league.

For many, sports rituals like this are interim remedies to supplant our cooped up winter blues with something more hopeful, more spring-like. For me, baseball has always been my sanity savior and teacher of life lessons in miniature. At the first game I attended in Tampa, names like Jeter, Sebathia, Gardener, Ichiro and Tanaka brought a sellout crowd to Steinbrenner Stadium. The following day, at the Yankee “Away” game in Dunedin (i.e. the Toronto Blue Jays spring training home), the batting line-up had me scouring my scorecard for the identity of players with numbers like 99 and 72 with names so new to me, and the press box, that they hadn’t even made it onto the team roster in time for the game day scorecard.

Why do I share this little bon mot? Because professional team sports for me, and millions like me, represent the American spirit of competitiveness and hope in a way that other group activities don’t. Sports are one of the last live events that audiences still plan their evening’s viewing around. TV sports programs, with their limited number of GRPs and short shelf life, make them the perfect candidates for appointment viewing. And nothing underscores this more than the current NCAA Basketball Tournament March Madness match-ups that have witnessed some of the most stunning and nail-biting upsets in recent memory.

When you look at the trend of broadcast prime time GRPs for P18-49, it becomes quickly evident that traditional broadcast network program categories can’t muster the audience the way live sports and special event programs can. Look at the trend in Broadcast Prime viewers 18-49 for the last three seasons and you’ll see a diminution of the AA ratings for classic network TV programs like sitcoms, dramas, reality shows and even celebrity magazine programs. 2013’s average broadcast prime time rating for P18-49 dropped nearly 10% from the previous year, averaging just below a 2.0 in that highly sought after daypart. What is equally intriguing is the fact that even the broadcast networks’ live prime time sports programming, which include the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL College Football/Basketball Championships in this example, saw a decline just shy of 4% in 2013 for the same average audience rating compared to the 2011/2013 season. That migration of A18-49 sports viewers seems consistent with the diaspora of “regular” non-sports viewers in broadcast network prime time.

But if you look closely at the last two national networks on the chart above, you might be surprised to see that Cinema is a medium that not only can participate but compete in this GRP arena against live sports. Take for example the 2013 weekly average audience ratings of a 6.2 generated by NCM Media Networks, the largest cinema network in the country, for P18-49. This average weekly audience represents a spread that, at its nadir, is a low of 3.5 during a month like April, while delivering up to 9.5 weekly GRPs for the same target demo during a high movie attendance month like July. Very few prime time programs, broadcast or basic cable networks can boast numbers like those for an average audience telecast.

Now some might accuse me of playing fast and loose by comparing Cinema’s weekly audience delivery with an average audience delivery in TV. I would simply reply that the end goal for all of us is to help an advertiser maximize their targeted GRPs across platforms that complement one another in search of their audience. Theatrical moviegoing, by definition, is also appointment viewing, just like watching the Final Four will be. The only real difference between watching the Final Four or “Captain America” is the former you can watch at home, while the latter you go out to watch in your local movie theater. Both represent conscious, decision-making choices that require you to dedicate a chunk of your time towards a scheduled entertainment event.

Additionally, Cinema has consistently shown itself to be an extremely engaging medium when you examine the brand recall, message recall and likeability of on-screen advertising compared to identical ads that have appeared on Prime Broadcast Network TV, Prime Basic Cable TV and Sports.

So the next time someone in the industry comments on the scarcity of appointment viewing GRPs, remember to tell them that Cinema can help supplement that scarcity, especially with young (P12-34) Light TV viewers who do a lot of time shift viewing. And if you’re a media planner or buyer and you don’t have Cinema in your bracket, you could be missing out on a big win.

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