Can we please stop using cume now?

Yesterday, Mediaworks sent through some data regarding the performance of When Hilary Met Oprah. As soon as I read that they had used cume as their measure, I cringed. Only a couple of months ago I pointed out that using cume as a measure for TV3’s first season of Masterchef New Zealand was a bad idea.

There were a number of problems with the data and rather than provide my own commentary around what Mediaworks had sent me, I decided to publish them wholesale and give you, the readers, a chance to mull over the spin.

Before we get into it, for those who don’t already know, cume is short for cumulative audience, or the total number of people who watch a part of a program. It can be useful for broadcast events like a telethon or the Rugby World Cup, for example, and provides a total number of viewers who tuned in for a part of it. Other than that, it is a vanity measurement.

What is traditionally used when reporting on ratings is the average audience. Average audience is the key measure which describes the average number of people that were tuned in for the duration of the program.

From the comments yesterday, it was pointed out that one problem with using cume in this instance was that the cumulative audience was more than double the average audience, which indicated a retention problem. With the cumulative audience being 400,000 people and the average audience being 199,550 viewers, at a minimum, half of everyone that watched part of it, didn’t watch all of it. At the worst end of the scale, the average could also be calculated by a large influx of viewers at the top of the show who then bailed once they’d had enough.

Mediaworks also went on to compare the cumulative audience between When Hilary Met Oprah with Seven Sharp. This is dubious at best. Firstly, the suggestion that an individual special performed better than regular programming is not to be unexpected. Rubber-neckers regularly tune in to see what the fuss is about and continue to channel surf if what they find isn’t to their tastes. The problem with looking at the cume for Seven Sharp is that we don’t know what the normal cume is. It could very well be the case that Monday’s show had a higher than normal cumulative audience.

Additionally, another problem is that while the average audience for the two shows in the key 25-54 demo were practically identical, the cume data shows that a higher percentage of Seven Sharp viewers who tuned in for a part of the show were more likely to stick around than those that tuned in for a part of When Hilary Met Oprah. In that sense it could be argued that Seven Sharp actually performed better and was able to hold on to more of the audience that happened to be channel surfing.

It is also important to note that the average audience measurement gives the average number of people likely to be watching the advertising during a show. The cumulative audience provides no insight into how many, if any, people were watching the advertisements.

Mediaworks’ statement that they had achieved “the highest ratings and share (in their target demographic of 25-54) at 7pm since the launch week of Story” might be good news for the special but I’m not so sure it’s good news for Mediaworks. In much the same way as people tuned in in larger numbers for the launch week of Story, the audience evaporation afterwards is their real issue.

The fact that Story started off with a hiss and a roar but hasn’t grown beyond that will be disappointing. The fact that a big name celebrity interview couldn’t even top a high that was, in the greater scheme of things, not that spectacular should be more cause for concern than celebration.

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About the author

Regan is one of the co-founders of Throng Media.
If they're on, I'm usually watching Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 24, Battlestar Galactica, The X Factor, Survivor, House of Cards, Mad Men and the NRL.
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  • H.M

    Sorry to sound dumb, but does that mean one news audience is half of the 700k? Or – around that figure..

    • Regan Cunliffe

      No. In this instance, the cumulative audience for When Hilary met Oprah just happened to be twice that of the average audience. One News’ average audience that watch across the hour might be 700k but the cumulative audience that includes everyone who tunes in just for the headlines, or just for the sport, or just for the weather, would be higher.

      • H.M

        Oh wow, so potentially there is more watching..that’s interesting to know thanks

  • GP

    Does that include people who watch the first two minutes before turning off in irritation?