by John Wenzel on November 29, 2006
– In a stark example of statistical interpretation, MTV’s press release from yesterday on the “The Real World: Denver” premiere differs greatly from numbers recently published in Variety magazine. According to that article, the show pulled in 1.56 million total viewers, a 53 percent drop from last season, and a significant decline by any standard. But MTV said the show reached over 8.5 million viewers. So who’s right?
– Neither, technically. Variety’s only counting one episode, while MTV is counting that it played the premiere three times in a row, and they’re not going by strict Nielsen numbers but rather “eyeball impressions.” I obtained the original stats straight from Nielsen and they track with the Variety article. However, as Brandi Preston from Nielsen told me, 8.5 million viewers may be “what is called a reach number…”
– “That is the number of different people who watched at least (X) amount of minutes of that particular 1st episode,” Preston said. “They could have run the episode 20 times and any unique viewer who saw it gets counted.” (emphasis added) I contacted MTV to clear up the matter and a staff member there familiar with the story gave me some background information, but nothing on the record. She said I’ll soon have an official statement for us (update: see the bottom of this post).
– In the meantime, here’s what Variety reporter Denise Martin wrote: “Long-running MTV reality franchise ‘The Real World’ may finally be showing signs of age. Skein’s 18th edition, ‘The Real World: Denver,’ premiered to lackluster numbers in its new Wednesdays-at-10 timeslot. Debut on Nov. 22 drew just 1.56 million total viewers, down a precipitous 53% from February’s premiere of ‘Real World: Key West,’ which drew 3.33 million…
– “Numbers also fell by half in MTV’s target 12-24 and 12-34 demographics. In the key 12-24 category, premiere was down to 965,000 viewers from the 1.87 million who tuned in for the first seg of ‘Key West.’ MTV touted results for a pair of one-hour preview specials that ran at 8 and 9 leading up to the premiere. Those drew 1.18 million and 1.59 million viewers, respectively. Channel was also happy with traffic to its Web site. MTV.com drew 223,000 streams in the 24-hour period following the premiere.” (emphasis added)
– The Reality Blurred blog noted, “in the Washington Post, Lisa de Moraes calls the show a ‘loser’ for the week and notes that The Real World Austin was watched by ‘nearly 4 million‘ people, The Real World Philadelphia by 3.3 million, and The Real World San Diego by 4 million. She asks if ‘it was the ‘Denver’ or the Thanksgiving Eve debut that rendered this one DOA.’”
An MTV spokesperson responded late this afternoon with this:
“Last Wednesday night, 11/22, MTV debuted ‘The Real World: Denver’ with a super-serving premiere event on Thanksgiving Eve. In a network first, three consecutive airings of the season premiere exposed more viewers to a ‘Real World’ premiere episode than ever before.
Our goal was to deliver a new season of The Real World in a unique and different way by experimenting with a innovative premiere model.
With regard to Variety’s story… By giving the MTV audience three different viewing destinations, 8p, 9p and 10p, it would be inaccurate to compare any individual airing on 1/22 to previous season premieres. Variety understands this and is running a correction in tomorrow’s paper that says: 4.33 million viewers (3.25 million in the target 12-34 demo) tuned in to the three airings of the premiere episode of ‘The Real World: Denver’ on MTV on Nov. 22.”
– So Variety’s running a correction saying the premiere numbers should have accounted for all three airings. And this, despite the fact that they were just going off of what Nielsen gave them (which I also have, and which notes 1.56 million viewers for a one-hour period last Wednesday night). No matter — the point is, if you go by Nielsen’s ratings, a single airing of the show didn’t do as well as last year’s “Key West” premiere, but if you take into account impressions for the entire three-hour period, it did better.
– Neither is totally accurate, but if you didn’t know anything about how the ratings game works — and you believed the MTV press release — you might think 8.5 million people watched one airing of “The Real World: Denver” last week. And if you were a potential advertiser looking for an accurate target audience size during a one-episode airing, you could be misled.
– “Real World” co-creator Jonathan Murray shot back in TV Week that my (and Variety’s, and the Washington Post’s) assessment of the ratings was “frustrating” because it didn’t reflect MTV’s “smart strategy” of playing the show three times in a row. Maybe so, but he still doesn’t explain how they arrived at the 8.5 million number. Does anyone walking through a room while the show is on really count as a viewer? I don’t think so. You can read more and hear audio of his interview right here. Reality Blurred also has a nice piece on it here.