What is the appropriate way to compare the audiences of an online video series and a television series? This controversy can also be called... The Upfronts vs. the Newfronts!
The Upfronts is where ad agencies on behalf of advertisers buy TV ads in bulk and also get presented with pitches by the various networks. The Upfronts have been around since 1962. The Newfronts are the digital equivalent, mostly featuring premium online content such as made for YouTube professionally produced series. The Newfronts have been gaining steam over the last few years but actually began in 2008. The Newfronts and Upfronts were just held back to back in New York City.
What's provoking jabs by TV execs such as CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, is that it's becoming clear that the Newfronts and Upfronts are competing for the same ad dollars. The budgets from advertisers of premium online digital video is coming out of the original budgets for TV commercials. For instance, ad agency Magna Global announced at the Newfronts that they are shifting $250 million from TV to digital in 2016.
At an Upfront breakfast speech, Moonves told the audience, "When it comes to digital, “The bloom is off the rose and the lack of effect of digital advertising are “absolutely true.” According to Adweek he put it this way:
As for other networks highlighting their success in specific demographics during upfronts, Moonves noted, “different people brag about statistics that they just made up last week.”
Moonves joined the chorus of broadcasters who are swinging back this week at the debatable claims coming from digital companies. “There’s a lot of stats that aren’t true,” said Moonves. “We see [ad] money coming back to the network. The bloom is off the rose [for digital].”
The Wall Street Journal Thursday added fuel to the fire by questioning a comparison of the audience size of the TV show "Pretty Little Liars" and the YouTube show "How to Survive High School". At the Newfronts Fullscreen said that the online show, "How to Survive High School" has amassed 36 million views since it launched last year, while in comparison "Pretty Little Liars" had 2 million viewers. This is a weak statistic, but it's meant to illustrate the growing reach of premium online video content, not that the YouTube show is actually more popular than "Liars." Per WSJ “Pretty Little Liars” has been averaging 2.5 million viewers an episode since January based on seven days of live and recorded viewing.
Statistically it's an apples-to-oranges comparison because the TV show has 2.5 million viewers every week while the web video show had 36 million views over the course of its existence. But at least those numbers are indisputable, while TV viewing is still relying on Nielsen estimates that are extrapolated from diaries and homes that installed their box.
Another argument was made by a TV advertising trade group:
Via WSJ -- "Sean Cunningham, chief executive of the Video Advertising Bureau, a TV-led trade group that has been making the argument that digital outlets are overstating their audiences, said that with Fullscreen’s comparison, “the basic media math falls apart here in every way.”
The VAB made the case that a better way to compare a Web video show with a TV show is to calculate the average audience at a given minute for both shows. The group found that since last August “Pretty Little Liars” averaged over 1.6 million viewers watching live at any given minute when on the air, while “How to Survive” averaged just 850 individual viewers during a given minute."
That way of comparison is silly and starts to make the hyperbole of online video proponents look sane. Not a good idea if you really want to make the case that online video views are overstated.
By its nature TV shows are mostly viewed live or after being recorded while online video is viewed over a much longer period of time and the period of time right after they are uploaded is irrelevant. Measuring the audience of an online video at a given point in time instead of overall may apply to TV somewhat but obviously way understates the viewing audience of online video. "How to Survive High School" had 36 million views! That is in NFL playoff territory.
Are they all unique? No. But so what? TV viewership is not unique over a multi-week period of time and TV execs don't seem to have a problem with that. They charge advertisers based on their total viewership for the episode, even if the advertiser is advertising every week where there is substantial overlap in their viewers over time.
Another aspect rarely noted is that digital ads are viewed preroll and cannot be bypassed, whereas TV ads are routinely fast-forwarded through or ignored (bathroom break!) and this is true of the younger age brackets especially. Of course with digital, unlike TV, there is usually only one ad per episode, but that's likely to change over time.
The point is that online digital is catching and likely surpassing the viewership of traditional TV viewership and it is freaking TV execs out!