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FX says overnight ratings becoming meaningless

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 24, 2014 at 7:16 am •  Published: July 24, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — It's a rite nearly as old as television: the morning after a new show premieres, network executives wait impatiently for the Nielsen company's estimate of how many people watched, and rush to report the first sign of a hit.

Leaders at the FX network are trying something new: They're no longer talking publicly about how their programs do on opening night, believing those numbers don't accurately reflect how many people see their shows. Instead, they're waiting a few days to see how many people catch up via time shifting.

Inside baseball perhaps, but also a vivid illustration of how TV viewing is changing, particularly for the scripted dramas that dominate at FX.

Less than a decade ago, the vast majority of people watched a show when a network scheduled it.

FX's "Sons of Anarchy" averaged 2.6 million viewers a week in 2006, with 2 million people watching live and another million within 24 hours, Nielsen said. Last year, each episode averaged 7.5 million viewers over a week's time, although only 3.2 million saw it "live." The rest watched on DVD, on demand, online or in FX repeats during the week.

Fully two-thirds of "Homeland" viewers on Showtime last year watched later than its first airing. The Fox series "Sleepy Hollow" had 10.1 million people watch live and another 10.1 million on various time shift options.

The early numbers, besides poorly representing a show's true audience, can blatantly mislead, said FX President John Landgraf. For his network's "Tyrant," overnight ratings showed that 13 percent fewer young viewers watched the second episode as watched the premiere. But when Nielsen's numbers for viewing over three full days came in, viewership was actually up 9 percent.

It gets under CBS' skin when NBC touts "America's Got Talent" as summer's most popular network show. That may be true in the overnight numbers, but CBS shows "Under the Dome" and "Extant" surpass it when time-shifted viewing is taken into account, said CBS research chief David Poltrack. Reality shows, sports and news are most commonly watched when they air.

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