Paritosh Joshi: 49ers lost the XLVIIth (but I’ll get over it)

11 Feb,2013

By Paritosh Joshi


Since my son moved to beautiful San Francisco, I have thrown my lot in with its sports fans. Back in October ’12, I exulted with them as they celebrated the SF Giants’ World Series victory, grabbing the World Series back after just a year’s gap. When, on February 3, 2013, the San Francisco 49ers squared off against Baltimore Ravens at the Mercedes Benz Superdome, New Orleans, in the finals of the National Football League, the Super Bowl, obviously I was rooting for them. What a game it was, with 49ers conceding a narrow 31-34 victory to the Ravens.


But the real game was hardly the burly gladiators of the two teams engaged in organized mayhem in that Louisiana battleground. It was what happened during the advertising break, (and to be fair, the halftime show featuring Beyonce), that the 47th edition will be remembered for.


Adult American males (TV time spent at nearly 3 hours) and females (2 hours and 30 minutes) are among the world’s most enthusiastic television viewers. While the emergence of Cable brought with it a huge growth in Pay TV, America’s Network operators: ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox; continue to depend primarily on advertising revenue. And the biggest stage for advertising, from sea to shining sea, is the most anticipated, most viewed television show every year; the Super Bowl.


So you already knew all that. But you probably don’t know this: No one knows exactly how many people watched the event that night. It isn’t a state secret or anything, just that they haven’t finished watching it yet.


Yes, the match was settled in the favour of the Ravens that evening itself but that isn’t all there is to measuring viewers, certainly not in the manner agreed between broadcasters and advertisers in the US. Both agree that many viewers postpone viewing from live play out to a later point for a wide variety of reasons impinging upon their viewing convenience and comfort. This has something, but not a whole lot, to do with the popularity of DVR devices. In fact, it goes all the way back to 1976 and the Victor Company of Japan (more popularly recognized by the abbreviated JVC – Japan Victor Corporation). In September ’76, JVC launched the VHS recorder and birthed a global entertainment revolution. A powerful feature that VHS recorders soon offered was their ability to be programmed to record one or more shows when they were unattended. If circumstances contrived to make you miss a show, you could now record it for later viewing. Without really meaning to, the VHS recorder marked a great watershed for television: the era of time-shifted viewing had arrived.


While the initial impact on viewing habits was minuscule, VHS prices came down rapidly and soon a recorder graced every American living room. Even we in India weren’t unaffected. By the late 1970s, our great international trading entrepreneurs of the day – Mr H Mastan Mirza, Mr Sukur N Bakhia, Mr K Lala and Mr V Mudaliar come to mind – introduced India to the VHS revolution. This wide adoption was already starting to measurably impact viewing behaviour by the 1980s.


BARB, the UK’s Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board was set up in 1981. Before its first decade was out, BARB turned its attention to time-shifted viewing and began to wire up VHS recorders in sample homes in addition to measuring on-schedule viewing.


Brings me to an acronym that you would do well to learn now; you are going to be hearing it a lot. VOSDAL. Viewed On Same Day As Live. Self-explanatory really but here is the corollary. Measurement currencies now measure time-shifted viewing for seven days after the original show ran on the FPC (Fixed Point Chart). This is VOSDAL+7, the statistic now widely agreed to be fair measure of the total audience garnered by a show.


Our own viewing behaviour has begun to change at an accelerating pace. DVRs, first introduced to the Indian consumer by Tata Sky in 2010 are now offered by all DTH operators and, with the mandatory rollout of Cable Digitalisation in the top four metropolises, by the major MSOs as well. Adoption cycles will be slow to kick in but prices will keep dropping driving penetration up.


By the way, DVRs are by no means the only technology disrupting the viewing habit. The emergence of second, third and even fourth screens are metamorphosing viewing into a parenthetical “television” experience that shifts it both temporally and spatially.


BARC – the Broadcast Audience Research Council will begin to take its first baby steps soon. While the easiest thing to do would be to continue along the trajectory already established by TAM, it should be clear to stakeholders on all sides that this would be suboptimal and, in the medium term, a significant handicap for the medium.


It is imperative that BARC recognize the need for building a measurement framework that goes well beyond VOSDAL. It will take time to bring consensus around any VOSDAL+ position on the measurement currency but the time to get it started is now.


In the meanwhile, I am betting that Super Bowl XLVII broke last year’s viewership record of 108.7 million viewers. Any takers?


PS: Only when I started researching this piece did I discover that VHS stood for Video Home System. Did you know?


Paritosh Joshi has been a marketer, a mediaperson and a key officebearer on industry bodies. He is developing an independent media advisory practice. His column, Media Matrix, appears on MxMIndia, usually on Thursdays


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One response to “Paritosh Joshi: 49ers lost the XLVIIth (but I’ll get over it)”

  1. Atul Phadnis says:

    Great piece as usual Paritosh.

    Have been observing that VOSDAL+7 in recent times explains 80% of my non-News TV viewing. And I’m sure there are a growing set of folks who are also undergoing these changes in their viewing patterns.

    We’re observing this pattern with our TV Search App users too – viewers doing a scan of future shows via our app and then going into their DVRs and booking those for time-shifted viewing later.

    I guess the tipping point within our industry will hasten when the leakage of viewership (due to non-counting) starts hurting…