Many years ago, the late, great NBC programming chief Brandon Tartikoff was quoted as saying that the weekly TV ratings numbers had become “the box score of the ‘90s.” That’s even more true this century as BBM Canada and Nielsen Media Research numbers are as parsed and dissected online and in print as Matt Sundin`s plus- minus statistics.
Which brings me to an email I received last week from Scott Henderson, head of publicity at CTV. Scott pointed out that the numbers quoted here at TV Feeds My Family do not reflect the "Total" TV audience numbers that his network receives from BBM Canada Nielsen Media Research.
Scott`s assertion is true. The numbers quoted here, generally, are "Commercial" overnight estimates, the same numbers that ad agencies and media buying agencies get. If they're good enough for the people buying advertising on television, I've always felt, they're good enough for TV Feeds My Family.
CTV's "Total" BBM score, however, which takes into account five CTV affiliates not in the "Commercial" mix, does boost their overall score. The other networks, CBC and Global, also get their own "Total" overnight estimates, which differs slightly from the "Commercial" tally, although generally not as much as CTV's "Total" result.
Which brings us to what this is all about: Corner Gas.
By any score, Corner Gas numbers are down this season, some weeks by 10% or more. That pretty much makes this popular Canadian comedy like every other show on TV this season. Why this matters is that as the numbers edge lower, Corner Gas has dropped below the million viewer mark across Canada in some overnight estimates, at least on the commercial scale.
For the week of Jan. 12-18, for example, Gas pulled 966,000 on the commercial overnights, but jumped to 1,010,000 on the weekly BBM/NMR report. For Jan. 19-25, which, I believe, was a repeat, Gas drew 965,000 commercial, 975,000 total. Last week, a new episode, the commercial overnights showed 993,000, CTV's total drew 1,036,000.
By sticking to their total score, CTV's P.R. department can continue to boast that no new episode of Corner Gas, in the entire six season run of the series, has ever dipped below the million-viewers-a-week mark. That's a very impressive boast and why wouldn't you want it out there, especially since it is true. All those eyeballs count, estimates or no estimates.
Corner Gas just has a few more episodes left to keep the streak alive. At this point, with CTV already having announced that this will be the final year, Tartikoff's observation seems apt. It is a bit like watching a baseball Hall of Famer trying to hold onto that lifetime .300 average. The show just doesn't hit as hard as it used to, and that has nothing to do with the quality of this season's episodes. It is just getting toward the end, and Brent Butt should be commended for pulling the plug at exactly the right time.
Whether it dips a few thousand below the million mark one week or two really isn't as important as the fact that the damn show will average close to 1.5 million a week over the six year run—an incredible, unprecedented feat in this age of fractured platforms, multiple distractions and endless options. Bottom line, Butt's place in the Canadian TV Hall is secure.
The other thing is—Corner Gas's weekly total is even higher than even the CTV "Total." U.S. network programmers at the recent TCA Winter press tour in Los Angeles told critics that they now look at four sets of numbers every single day. PVR use, iPod and streaming hits—all of these viewings, when factored into the mix, distribute a TV show beyond the traditional weekly TV schedule reach.
Think of it this way: Gas may go up and down each week, just as it does at the pump, but it is always higher in Canada. Now you get it.
Another thing stealing eyeballs away from Corner Gas could be last minute schedule changes; tonight's episode, a repeat, is on at 8 p.m. on CTV, even though some listing mags still have it at as a new episode at 9:30.