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Everything about television has changed in the last decade, from the size of the screen to the plethora of new avenues for original programming. But perhaps the biggest shift in audience behavior involves how commonplace DVR is now, which has put a big dent in networks’ same-night ratings systems that they’ve been using for ages. Well, it turns out the way ratings are accumulated may be changing too, now that trendsetter HBO has joined a growing number of networks abandoning Live + Same Day numbers.
Starting on January 1, 2015, the premium cable station will “no longer be distributing or confirming LIVE+SD viewership” for their programming, according to Deadline. HBO will now be delaying their ratings announcements until at least two weeks after something airs, to account for Live+7 Nielsen results, their On Demand numbers, and HBO Go’s streaming. That means by the time we hear from them how many millions of people watched that one guy die on Game of Thrones, another three characters will already be dead. But the viewership, on average, will jump from 7 million same-day to over 18 million after a week has passed. That’s sizeable enough to warrant a change.
The principle behind this is sound. After all, there’s no denying that more and more people are watching series on their own time, rather than according to the schedule networks have dictated for years. But then, I don’t think HBO has a deal with Nielsen that’s going to stop that company from reporting on HBO’s Live+SD ratings. So it’s not like this information is just going to be completely absent from our lives now. We’ll just be getting more structured updates from HBO, who will be squeezing out every single viewer number it can.
Some might think that HBO wouldn’t have to worry about ratings as much, given they’re based on subscriptions rather than ad revenue. But they still need people to watch those shows, and there are few better ways of getting people to do something than showing them that a shitload of other people are doing that same thing. Plus, it probably helps out when they deal out their programming on other streaming services, like Amazon Prime.
They’re hardly the first network to make this kind of statement. CBS, Fox and FX have all recently come down on press reporting a show’s ratings so soon after it airs. It’s possible more networks will tag on to this approach, even if the postponement is limited to Live+3 ratings, without streaming entered into it.
With HBO’s new non-subscription-based streaming service coming next year, it’s likely that the network will see its ratings grow even higher. But we’ll just have to wait a while (and then two weeks after that) to see just how impactful their focus shift is.