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Best Practices for Driving Program Viewership

Jiamin Xuan
Jiamin Xuan
Published: Jan. 13, 2016

The continuing trend of audience fragmentation, combined with low ratings, has put enormous pressure on broadcast and cable networks to drive audiences to new shows and convert them into loyal viewers. For these TV networks, larger audiences mean better ratings, which translate directly into higher inventory pricing and more advertising revenue.

Over the past six years, Simulmedia has run over 500 tune-in campaigns for TV networks focused on gaining and retaining viewership. Through the use of licensed television viewing data, we accurately predict audience viewing behavior on TV and connect program viewership to the TV ad that promoted the show. These campaigns bring measurement and attribution never before seen in television campaigns. Over this time, we have discovered a set of best practices and insights to help TV networks increase viewership to their shows and drive higher ratings.

To answer the questions asked frequently by our clients, we decided to look back 3 years at over 2,000 TV tune-in campaigns for season premieres to figure out the household viewing behavior, which comes out to around 100 billion records. Here are some of the most interesting findings that popped up.

What is the optimal creative mix?

Creative is very important when it comes to driving program viewership. Bad creative can do serious harm to a programs long term viability. But, what does ad length have to do with effectiveness? Our clients typically use either a 50/50 or 30/70 mix of thirty- (:30) and fifteen-second (:15) ads, but they want to know what is the most effective mix. We've found that :30 ads have higher conversion rates and :15s are cheaper, but an interesting pattern appeared when we looked at household-level data:

Scatter plot showing the conversion rate depending on the average TV creative length.

If the average length of your campaign is about 23 seconds, you land on a good optimal conversion rate (it's definitely higher when the average length hits 50 seconds but the variance is also higher which means you would have less control of your result). For example, if you have :15s / :90s creative then you could buy 100 :15s and 10 :90s. When you limit it to only :15s and :30s creative, the optimal conversion rate is found with a 30%/70% mix:

Exhibit B.png

What's the relationship between completion rate and conversion rate?

Completion rate is defined as the percentage of people who see an ad in its entirety. We usually think completion rate reflects the quality of creative, and fewer people tuning away might indicate that the ad is more attractive, thus leading to a higher conversion rate.

Exhibit C.png

Looking at a household level scatter plot of completion rate against conversion rate, we can definitely find a positive linear correlation, which means creative with higher quality (completion rate) leads to higher conversion. It means that we can use completion rates as an early indicator of conversion rates.

At what frequency levels do conversion rates plateau?

Advertisers across all categories want to know how many times they should expose a customer to an ad. We know that a higher frequency is valuable but at what point does seeing another ad have no effect on a viewers conversion? In this analysis, we used household-level frequency, and found that the conversion rate of on-network ads (ads aired on the same network that airs the program) usually plateaus around 100 views (Exhibit D), while off-network ads plateau around 17 views (Exhibit E).

Exhibit D.png
Exhibit E.png

More importantly, however, is that when frequency rises from 0 to 1 (someone going from no exposures to one exposure), the conversion rate increases more than 100 times compared to the increase of frequency from 1 to 2! So while frequency is valuable, it is not as valuable as reaching a brand new viewer for the first time. Reach always trumps frequency.

What are the best days to run ads?

Another common question we receive from clients is how long should our campaign run? To answer this question, we looked back at campaigns of series premieres, both on and off network, to see when conversion rates are highest. In both scenarios, the closer you get to the air date, particularly 2-3 days, the higher the conversion rate. But for on-network campaigns, advertising on the same day of the week as the program will air, and more specifically the same hour, significantly increases the conversion rate (Exhibit F).

Line chart showing the conversion rate by day of week that tries to answer question about what days are the best to run TV advertising.
Exhibit G.png

Overall, a viewer is more likely to tune-in to a program's premiere after seeing an ad within 3 days of the premiere. However, running on-network ads on the same day, and same hour, as the premiere but a week or two before, can be effective placements for converting your audience.