Reflections on conversations with Canadians #2

I saw some audience data the other day for the top 10 English language television series in 2012. The numbers ranged from a high of 1.6m for Saving Hope to 871K for the Rick Mercer Report. That is good news and good improvement but what does it really mean?

It seems to me if you looked at their audience reach pro-rated for the U.S. market those numbers might look pretty good. (Spoiler alert: I am not a statistician but may be on the lookout for help from one on comparing some of our numbers to what’s deemed success in the U.S.)

If we used a really simplistic assumption that the U.S. market is 10x the market size in Canada, then all other things being equal, #1 Saving Hope is equivalent to a 16m audience and #10 the Rick Mercer Report is good for almost 9m. (All other things being equal– which they never are.)

So what kinds of shows were doing 9-16m in the U.S. in 2012?  Well in terms of regular programming the best drama series coming in at #7 was NCIS with an audience of 13.6M followed at #10 Vegas at 11.6m. (Seriously ,Vegas?).  Versions of the NFL, American Idol, Dancing With the Stars and The Voice filled out the top 10.

So again using our 10x math Saving Hope, Rookie Blue and Flashpoint did better per capita in Canada then the top U.S. drama NCIS. (Assuming the multiplier is 10 and not 8 but you get the idea)

So I think there is room for research using something like this as a starting point. And it could be done for different genres (lifestyle, kids) or for non-conventional cable specialty channels too.

Of course critics may rightly argue this is way too simplistic and note that U.S. dramas do better than Canadian on Canadian channels. They certainly do on conventional TV channels like CTV, Global or City. But is that surprising:

  • Given the massive promotional dollars spent on these in the U.S. that then leak over the border even before Canadian broadcasters spend even more dollars promoting them here. (Note that some Canadian shows are now seeing increased promotional spend by Canadian broadcasters that is helping grow audience) and;
  • Given how much is often spent producing a big budget U.S. show versus a big budget Canadian is it possible on a dollar by dollar basis our industry delivers better quality? For instance a very small number of the big Canadian shows weigh in at a little over $2m while US shows tend to cost more to produce. Big name stars cost big money.

Cable series like Game of Thrones are much harder to compare. The Game of Thrones Finale in 2012 drew 4.2 m but the show averaged 10m over the season once replays were factored in.  However, many of the big productions like Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, with budgets that can reach up to $8-$10 an episode, are simply out of reach in our market. If we want to make those quality shows we need U.S. or big international partnerships to do it.

But back to the critical question as to how are we doing in terms of audience success. Perhaps a lot better in drama than we think in terms of audience per population covered and in genres like lifestyle, sci-fi and kids.

Having better data (than my weak effort here ) starting with some of the ideas suggested above would be great, but it probably takes a lot of money and co-ordination to model correctly so the comparisons make sense.

But we need this type of data if we are going to accurately measure our success with audiences. That seems key to the CRTC’s “conversation.”

CMPA would be happy to contribute dollars to such an effort. Partners welcome.


One thought on “Reflections on conversations with Canadians #2

  1. Michael, this is an excellent point. I used to make the same comparisons on my blog. The other thing I noticed was, properly promoted, Canadians do show up to watch the first episode. We can get them to sample just fine. Like a lot of TV we sometimes can’t get them to return. It’s so important for us to be able to put our best feet forward in the beginning — not the usual thing of, “well the show gets good episode 6.” We need to have a conversation about proper promotion, yes. But we also have to talk about how we can deliver what we promised out of the gate — so that ep 1, 2, 3 can all be, in essence, “kickass pilots,” so they can retain the audiences that come for that initial hit.

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