The TV world is in the midst of a shake-up these days. A newly revamped version of the Neilsen ratings system has begun to release numbers taking into account everyone who watches a show not just live during its first showing, but for the entire month that follows on DVR. The new numbers have produced a bevy of unexpected winners and losers.But no matter how many tweets, streams, and DVR playbacks you add in, some things never change: "Sunday Night Football," for one instance, remains one of TV's most popular shows, and "The Mindy Project" remains one of TV's less-popular. But if you drill down into the numbers, you can still learn a thing or two.
Here are surprising winners (plus a couple of not-quite winners) of the 2013-2014 fall TV season:
1. "The Vampire Diaries" (The CW): According to its network, the veteran bloodsucker series, averages a sparse (but huge in The CW terms) 2 million so-called live-TV viewers, but is currently the biggest scripted broadcast series on social media, outdoing even the Twitter favorite "Scandal."
2. "Shark Tank" (ABC): It's not "Grimm." It's not "Dracula." It's not buzzy. The pitch-Mark Cuban-and-friends reality show is just bigger than anything else among 18- to 49-year-old viewers on broadcast TV on Fridays, including "Grimm" and "Dracula."
3. "Grimm" and "Dracula" (NBC): Forget (almost) everything you just read. While "Shark Tank" is indeed a success story, "Grimm" and "Dracula" are getting there, too. After three days' worth of DVR playback was folded into the Oct. 25 ratings, NBC reported, "Grimm" and "Dracula" both wound up outdrawing that night's "Shark Tank" in the young-adult demographic.
4. "Blue Bloods" (CBS): Yet another Friday entry. Not only is this four-season-old Tom Selleck drama not buzzy, it's not even "Shark Tank" buzzy. But it gets viewers (11 million for last Friday's broadcast, the biggest overall crowd of the night), and not only that, it gets viewers who watch rather than just glance. In the Rentrak rundown of the broadcast shows with the most "stickiness," meaning the most viewers who stick around with shows for the longest amount of time on a given night, "Blue Bloods" ranked fourth for the week ended Oct. 20. Only the perennially top-ranked "NCIS" did better among scripted dramas.
5. "The X Factor" (Fox): It doesn't score more viewers than "The Voice," but per Nielsen, the Simon Cowell vehicle actually generated more tweets than its NBC rival did for the week ended Oct. 28.
6. Some show we don't yet know is a hit: It was only last week we learned the pilot episode for the freshman CBS thriller "Hostages" was far more sampled than Nielsen's boxes suggested. Per the network's accounting, the first episode of "Hostages," which averaged about 7 million live-TV viewers, a not-so-great number for a CBS show, was watched by 15.5 million by the time a month's worth of DVR views, video-on-demand plays, and so ons and so forths were tallied. (That's the 30-day-multiplatform ratings in action.) "Hostage's" combined video-on-demand and streaming number was especially impressive; only the network's biggest shows ("NCIS," "The Big Bang Theory," and "How I Met Your Mother") scored more views.
So off to a great start when all's factored in. But is "Hostages" still killing it in its post-air afterlife? We don't know yet. The thing about the 30-day multiplatform ratings is you have to wait 30 days to get them. What we do know now is that the live-TV audience for "Hostages" has dwindled to under 5 million. What we will know eventually is whether "Hostages" has any "Breaking Bad" in it: Can it survive to produce a Netflix-able amount of episodes? Will those Netflix-able episodes be indulged in by Netflix users? Will "Hostages," at long last, become a hit? Maybe it won't, but it's a pretty good bet that at least one Nielsen straggler from this fall will. This is the age, after all, of the un-overnight sensation.
Not Entirely Winning
1. "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." (ABC): It's been picked up for the full season. It's a demo upgrade over the "Dancing With the Stars" results show that aired in the 8 p.m. Tuesday time slot last fall for its network. And after a steep falloff from its first episode to its second, it's stabilized, averaging about 7.5 million viewers before DVR playback and all the other ancillary outlets are counted. But no matter how many ancillary outlets are counted, and despite all its "Avengers" connections, "S.H.I.E.L.D." has not distinguished itself as broadcast TV's top new drama. That honor goes to NBC's "The Blacklist."
2. "The X Factor" (Fox): The tweet thing was cool and all, but at the end of the number crunching it's still a live-TV show, and live-TV shows, like "Sunday Night Football," "The Voice," and "DWTS," are events that are watched by live-TV viewers, not so much by viewers weeks and weeks later. Example: Among the Fox shows that began in mid-September, "The X Factor" made the smallest percentage gains in the 30-day multiplatform ratings. (Its DVR usage was actually OK, but its streaming and video-on-demand were virtually nonexistent.) The lesson here is one that a bottom-line guy like Cowell himself might appreciate: Not every show can become an un-overnight sensation, even in this age of un-overnight sensations.
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