Tuesday 13 November 2018

The Ratings Game

Yes, it is enough to make your head hurt. Go on-line at the moment and you will find it hard to avoid the fact that a lot of people are talking about the viewing figures which Series 11 is bringing in. There are those who point out that, in context, they are not that bad - especially when compared to recent seasons. Then there are those who prophesy doom and gloom, and the series is heading for cancellation etc.
As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between. These are the figures we have so far:

The Woman Who Fell To Earth: Overnight = 8.2m / Consolidated = 10.54m / AI = 83
The Ghost Monument:                 Overnight = 7.11m / Consolidated = 8.67m / AI = 82
Rosa:                                              Overnight = 6.39m / Consolidated = 8.09m / AI = 83
Arachnids in the UK:                   Overnight = 6.43m / Consolidated = 7.97m / AI = 83
The Tsuranga Conundrum:        Overnight = 6.12m / Consolidated = 7.49m / AI = 79
Demons of the Punjab:                Overnight = 5.77m / Consolidated = TBC / AI = TBC

The consolidated figure is released 7 days after broadcast, and takes into account those viewers who did not watch it live (they recorded it or streamed it) and who watched by a variety of different means (e.g. on tablet or on their phone). There will be another figure to come - the +28 day one.
These figures can be looked at in one of two ways - in the context of current TV viewing patterns, or in comparison with previous seasons.
The big mistake most people seem to be making is the latter. Apart from Xmas Specials, all other Doctor Who up to this point has been broadcast on a Saturday. Series 11 is shown on a Sunday. Patently obvious, I know, but a lot of commentators simply aren't taking this into account.
Viewing patterns for a Sunday evening are different to those for a Saturday. People go out on a Saturday night, because they don't have to get up for work / school the next day, whereas this is not the case with a Sunday. The make-up of the schedules is different. Saturday tends to be light entertainment-heavy, whilst Sunday sees more documentaries and drama serials.
It is an entirely different landscape, and you can't compare the ratings for a Sunday show with a Saturday one.
The whole point of moving Doctor Who from its Saturday slot to a Sunday one was to hep improve ratings. The programme no longer sat comfortably in the Saturday evening landscape, and things were not helped by the BBC messing around with the start times, and pushing it later and later. (It is ironic that one reason for the move was to take it away from competition with The X-Factor. The ITV talent show is in terminal decline as far as its viewing figures are concerned, with low overnight ratings, and it never did have a large +7 audience - what viewers it does get preferring to watch it live).
So, has Doctor Who's ratings improved with the move?
The answer is yes - but not by a huge margin. Not as much as I'm sure the BBC would have liked.
Series 10 had two episodes which fell below the 5 million overnight figure (The Lie of the Land and The Eaters of Light), and only one made it above the 6 million mark (The Pilot). All the rest were 5 point something million - and this is where the most recent episode - Demons of the Punjab - has come in.
As you can see from the Series 11 figures above, there has been a steady falling off of around half a million each week, apart from a marginal upturn for the episode which followed Rosa. This should have been a much higher increase, what with all the media attention which Episode Three generated. It will be interesting to see if Demons leads to the another increase, as it has also generated some discussion thanks to its subject matter.
The one figure which we really ought to just throw out is that massive consolidated for the opening episode. This was the debut of the first female Doctor, on a new night of the week, so it was always going to be high. A lot of people with no real interest in the show were always going to be nosy and take a look - so the figure was always going to be artificially bloated.
I'm reminded of the English football fans who got "World Cup Winners, 2018" tattoos, after their team beat Panama 6 - 1. It was Panama for goodness sake. The figures for The Woman Who Fell To Earth should never have been taken so seriously.
These figures were then compared to previous Doctor's debuts - but I've just pointed out that you can't compare Saturday with Sunday viewing. Then there's the fact that the means by which the viewing figures are gathered has changed totally since 2005. (There was also some gerrymandering going on, when they opted to make Tennant's debut New Earth, instead of The Christmas Invasion, just to make Whittaker's figures look better. As Benjamin Disraeli once said (according to Mark Twain): "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics").
If you really want to paint this series' viewing figures in a positive light, you have stop these pointless comparisons to the past, and to consider them instead in the context of current viewing patterns.
These episodes are often the second most watched programme of the day, beating even new documentaries from David Attenborough, and they're sitting in the Top 10 for the week, beating some episodes of Coronation Street. Doctor Who is still getting audience shares of just under 30%. These sorts of figures are far more significant than the raw viewer data. They do not indicate a series in decline.
The other thing to keep an eye on is the AI (Appreciation Index) - which tells you how much the viewers actually enjoyed the episode. That AI of 79 for the Pting story is the thing that the BBC should really be worried about. Not one episode of Series 10 had an AI of less than 81, and a couple managed 85. Capaldi had only one story go below 80, Sleep No More, which got an AI of 78. That was the only story of Steven Moffat's entire tenure as showrunner to fall below 80, whereas Chris Chibnall has managed it after just 5 episodes.

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