Written by Media, TV

Misinterpreting Research Figures

If you read the right sort of newspapers, you couldn’t help but fail to notice that the fifth and final series of The Wire premiered on FX channel in the UK this week.
Then this morning, the various media sites, including Mediaguardian publish the fact that “only” 38,000 people watched the show last night. More people, it seemed, had watched Family Guy and NCIS earlier in the evening.
So is this as disastrous a figure as the reports might have you think, even if they don’t out and out say that? Well of course not. There are several things to consider when reporting overnights for shows such as this:
1) Unlike Channel 4, the repeat on FX+ later that evening wasn’t included. Ordinarily, perhaps because they have an alert press office, the Channel 4+1 figures are reported for major shows on that channel. OK, so a midnight repeat probably didn’t garner many extra people, but it will have gathered a few.
2) FX will be repeating this show on several occassions throughout the week. We don’t all watch at the first opportunity, and in the multi-channel world, same week repeats are important.
3) BARB really can’t cope with overnights of a single programme at 10pm on a channel like FX. In total there are just 5,100 homes on the panel. I don’t know how many of them are multi-channel, but let’s be generous and assume that 4,500 of them are in multichannel homes. As I say, I don’t have the actual figures, but run with me. At 10pm last night something like 21m people were watching one or another channel out of a total population of perhaps 50m. So roughly 1,890 BARB “boxes” were recording viewing. We learn that FX had a 1% share at that point in time so we’re talking about roughly 19 boxes being in play. Perhaps just 19 homes then. That’s simply not a statistically significant number to be working with – it only takes a handful of people to massive affect FX’s viewing figures. So the 38,000 should probably be taken with a certain amount of salt.
4) In any case, channels like FX will be looking at an overall weekly or monthly average share. Programmers there will be looking at the broader picture and selling their airtime accordingly.
In reality The Wire, for all its plaudits, has never had strong viewing figures, including on its home network HBO, where it was something to be proud of rather than to gain viewers as other shows might. That’s the only way it has managed to win 5 seasons. I suspect that many more people are watching the DVDs than watching on FX.