Reader question: How do you count multiple telecasts of the same program?


Commenter Marcus asks:

If I’m trying to determine the total number of viewers of a particular program, can I simply add your viewership numbers together or is it more complicated than that?  For example, if there are three airings in a day and the totals are 1MM, 1.2MM and 1.5MM is it fair to say 3.7MM viewers watched the show?

Reasonable people and people who write TV ratings press releases for a living can disagree but I think it’s more complicated than just adding the numbers together. I love the question though.

Let’s take Marcus’ example, but fictionalize it a bit. FS1 has given me a show to talk about sports TV ratings called “Sports TV Ratings.” In the real world the show never makes it to the air or in the unlikely event it does has 0 viewers and is canceled immediately. But for illustrative purposes it’s a big hit!

It’s a 30 minute show that FS1 airs three times a day. I spend the first half of the show talking about the previous days #s and the last half ranting about how pathetic the numbers are for “The Herd,” “Speak for Yourself” and “Garbage Time,” how pitiful Bayless’ numbers will be when he arrives and lambasting Jamie Horowitz for his “SportsCenter should be worried” comments and complaining about a mostly-cowardly sports media that in light of FS1’s pitiful ratings won’t take Horowitz to task over the comments.

Astonishingly the show is a huge hit averaging 1 million viewers for it’s 7:30p telecast, 1.2 million for its 9:30p telecast and 1.5 million viewers for the midnight telecast.  Can I raise my hands in triumph that 3.7 million watched the show?

It’s fair to skewer me for being pedantic about this stuff but in an effort to avoid confusion I think it’s important to be really precise about terms.

Saying that 1 million people watched the 7:30 telecast isn’t precisely true. What’s precisely true is that there were 30 million minutes of viewing between 7:30p and 8:00p. Take those 30 million minutes and divide it by the show’s duration of 30 minutes and you get an average of 1 million people at any given minute.  Sometimes networks will publish the number of unduplicated viewers who watched at least 1 minute or at least 6 minutes, but all the daily reported numbers that you see on this site and others are average per minute numbers that are calculated by taking the total minutes of viewing and dividing by the program’s duration.

So can you add the numbers up? I say “no, but…”

“No” because in order to keep things in “average viewer per minute” terms you wind up with an average of 1.233 million viewers per minute, not the 3.7 million you’d get if you added up the averages.

Where the “but” comes in is that it’s a lot better to average 1.233 million viewers for 90 minutes than 1 million viewers for 30 minutes. So even though the Fox Sports executives are scratching their heads in disbelief about my show’s success, it’s not lost on them that it’s a lot better to get 111 million minutes of viewing from the 3 telecasts than just the 30 million minutes from the first telecast.

So the additional airings are definitely taken into account but no matter how I slice it the show averaged 1.233 million viewers and not 3.7 million.

This sort of counting question also comes up in various sports fandoms. Let’s say the sport you love had 2 games on and for simplicity each game lasted 2 hours and averaged 2 million viewers. You will definitely see some “4 MILLION WATCHED MY FAVORITE SPORT LAST NIGHT!” on social media and websites. It’s fair to say each game averaged 2 million and it’s fair to say the games averaged 2 million viewer per minute for 4 hours or that the games had 480 million minutes of viewing (2 million per minute times the 240 minutes in 4 hours). But for similar reasons as the fake show example I don’t think it’s fair to say 4 million people watched.

This article has 2 Comments

  1. So, in your theoretical example of my theoretical example, if your FS1 show was 60 minutes long and it aired 3x in a day with the same viewership #’s. Is it correct to say the TOTAL number of viewers for all 3 airings on that day is 617K?

    1. no. using your original numbers the average across all three telecasts would still be 1.233 million but the number of total minutes would double from ~111 million to 222 million.

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