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'The Following': Delayed views nearly double premiere's audience

February 13, 2013|By Dawn C. Chmielewski
  • Actor Kevin Bacon attends an event in New York tied to the premiere of "The Following."
Actor Kevin Bacon attends an event in New York tied to the premiere of "The… (Andy Kropa / Invision )

"The Following," Fox's new serial-killer drama starring Kevin Bacon, attracted 10.4 million viewers on the night of its premiere.

But the first-night figure, indicating a solid start for the show, does not include an additional 9.9 million people who watched the premiere in the days ahead, according to newly released statistics from Nielsen and Fox.

The audience nearly doubled after the initial broadcast, with 4.7 million people who watched a DVR recording during the next six days, 2.8 million who caught an encore broadcast, and 2.4 million who watched it online or via cable on-demand services.

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This splintered audience illustrates dramatic changes in TV viewing habits. More Americans are using digital video recorders to watch episodes on their own schedules, and taking advantage of online streaming services like Hulu to catch up on a show.

"The days of the entire nation watching a show live, when the network programmed it, are gone," Joe Earley, chief operating officer of Fox Broadcasting Co., said in an interview.

Taken together, the audience for "The Following" for its premiere episode reached 20.34 million -- in line with some of the biggest TV dramas in years' past, before the widespread adoption of technologies that gave viewers the tools to watch TV on their own terms.

For example, ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" opened to 16.2 million viewers in the coveted bracket of viewers 18 to 49 years old when it debuted in 2005.

"The Following" is not alone: ABC's hit comedy "Modern Family" typically attracts at least 12 million viewers on the night of its broadcast and an additional 4.6 million viewers throughout the week, according to Nielsen data.

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NBC's new series "Revolution" last fall drew an average audience of 8 million viewers on Monday nights followed by 4.4 million viewers over the next six days. CBS's geek comedy "The Big Bang Theory" collects 16.7 million viewers on average when the show airs on Thursday nights -- and 4 million more later in the week.

Network executives realize that DVRs and other services are cutting into live TV ratings. High-profile figures -- including Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert A. Iger and CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves -- have stepped up a campaign for the TV industry to get credit with advertisers for these additional viewers.

Advertisers currently pay the networks based on ratings for the live viewing and three days of DVR playbacks. In the industry, this is called the C3 measurement. Iger, Moonves and others have been pushing for a new standard, one that would count a show's audience over seven days.

Currently, Nielsen reports such data two weeks later.  For "The Following," which premiered on Jan. 21, the seven-day viewing data became available from Nielsen on Monday.

Such a change would benefit most shows on network television. It would provide a particular boost for shows with younger-skewing audiences like "Glee," whose audiences are accustomed to using DVRs or online streaming services to watch the show. Viewership for "Glee" can grow by 50% in the week following the live broadcast.

"When 50% of your viewing is time-shifted, [live is] no longer an accurate measure," said Fox's Earley.

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Technology is expected to continue to help ratings for "The Following."  The show has seen its audience erode from its premiere episode, and Nielsen estimated that 7.7 million people watched the program live last Monday night, a drop of 17% from its performance last week.

Networks have been frustrated that ratings giant Nielsen has been slow to figure out how to measure viewing on alternate screens. Earley said Nielsen must improve their methods to better reflect how and where viewers are watching TV.

"Networks are expected to get their shows to break through or find new opportunities across platforms," Earley said. "The measurement is not there yet for someone watching on an iPad or an iPhone or watching in a bar. ... We're not keeping up with viewing behavior."

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