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At the ARF's recent annual conference, CBS discussed findings from their "Campaign Performance Audit" (CPA) program, which studies—among other things—how an ad's effectiveness is affected by the programming in which it appears. On CBS's behalf, Nielsen Catalina looked at ad schedule data for six consumer packaged goods brands for the second quarter of 2016, with the goal of determining which genres provided the highest ROI. In this case, the criteria for ROI was which ads sold the most products.
This got a lot of traction in the trades, as the topline findings indicated that ads appearing in sitcoms had the highest ROI for the brands studied. However, it should be noted that sitcoms indexed at 114 (or 14% above the average), just narrowly beating out variety shows (113) and general dramas (112)—hardly earth shaking. Perhaps in acknowledgement of this, CBS's Chief Research Officer, Dave Poltrack, emphasized the strength of primetime in general, relative to programs in other dayparts; the analysis showed a 109 index in ROI among high rated primetime shows, compared to a 97 among other dayparts. The message? Don't take too much money out of primetime if you want to have an effective campaign.
Obviously, it's in CBS's best interest that advertisers continue to invest in primetime, especially in light of defections to digital media in recent years. However, there's an element of truth to the assertion; as we reported in TV Dimensions 2017, network primetime still reaches the highest number of viewers across time. We found that typical high-rated network primetime shows could be expected to achieve a 4.5% reach in one week, 7.8% across four weeks and 13.7% across 12 weeks. As a point of comparison, across a 12-week time frame, an early AM news/talk show peaks at 9.2%; a prime access newsmagazine reaches 12.1%; and a late-night talk variety show peaks at 6.2%. Only prime access game shows exceeded the high-rated primetime shows, with a 16.2% reach across 12 weeks; but it must be remembered that these shows run Monday-Friday, as opposed to once a week in primetime.
As far as attentiveness is concerned, we report in TV Dimensions that in the studies we examined, it is evident that viewers are more attentive to primetime shows and less attentive to daytime and fringe evening shows, even when the programs are from the same genre. While program quality is clearly a factor, and primetime shows are usually of better quality, primetime also benefits from the fact that viewers may be more attuned to relaxing and settling in for an evening's enjoyment, while a comparable attitude may not prevail at other times of day. Additionally, there are fewer distracting duties or activities as the evening wears on and, as an added element, fewer of those annoying commercials in primetime than other dayparts. To put some hard numbers to it, a sitcom airing in broadcast primetime had an average fully attentive score of 50%, compared to a 35% fully attentive score from Monday-Friday early fringe sitcoms.
Ultimately, the higher levels of attentiveness do have a positive effect on commercial exposure. Again, as we discuss in TV Dimensions, a primetime drama has an average commercial exposure factor of 74%, compared to only 48% for an early AM broadcast news/talk entry, or 54% for a late evening syndicated sitcom. So, aside from primetime TV's appeal as a "prestige" place for an advertiser to appear, it seems that it still has genuine value in reaching audiences who might actually pay attention to the ads.