What Is Second-Screen and How It Works With The Television Ratings Model


If you’re in television your success is evaluated by ratings, but the traditional ratings model has been fragmented by new devices, which change viewing behavior. Does “It’s harder to reach audiences now” sound familiar? [Read about how Marketing and business sectors are having trouble capturing consumer attention too.]

In the television landscape today, SUCCESS very much hinges on audience.

If a show is able to keep a large audience committed, it will get backed by its network and advertisers. Another way of demonstrating audience is online engagement. The trick is to continually prove to the networks, advertisers, and shareholders that your show is capturing an audience. As I wrote about how social media has helped save the music industry earlier this year, social media has opened up a new way to engage and capture an audience for television. What’s more, it helps demonstrate value to networks, advertisers, and shareholders.

There’s a tango between networks and advertisers, and shows get pulled if they don’t draw a steady and strong audience (to be advertised to). With new and better ways of tracking viewer behavior, shows get pulled faster, saving networks and advertisers time and money to move onto a new project. Many network shows don’t last a full season these days.

Example: How The Grinder Won Its First Season

(Left to Right) William Devane, Rob Lowe, Connor Kalopsis, and Fred Savage in episode “A Hero Has Fallen” opener. (Source: Fox)

Back on October 14th, 2015, Nielsen’s overnight ratings for Fox TV show The Grinder reflected a continued loss of audience. In its first week the show garnered 4.98 million viewers. In its second week viewership went down to 3.15 million viewers. From its third week the show was only able to capture 2.51 million viewers. And yet, by the end of that same month the show got a full season order by its parent network Fox. Why? Many factors, but I think the main reason was Fox taking a chance. The Grinder has an average season rating of 2.7 million viewers, the main acting ensemble has chemistry, the show’s production is top notch, and the writing is in step with the culture and has a unique style and direction.

What greatly influenced viewing was the show’s lynch-pin, Rob Lowe engaging with fans on social media.

Lowe has been seamlessly doing promo for the NFL, Coca-Cola, and other brands as well. More than halfway through its first season, The Grinder’s first nomination was a Golden Globe nomination for Rob Lowe. Throughout the week leading up to the Golden Globes and the night of, Lowe was making his followers feel like they were a part of his experience.

What Second-Screen Does for Viewer Experience

Note how social media played a role in helping the show win consistent viewer numbers after week 3 and prove it had won an audience. Television pairs well with social media, the intimate nature of both mediums make them a match made in heaven when it comes to connecting audiences with programming. With so many different devices and channels,  social media has been the way of focusing audiences. It’s as if appointment television has returned, all thanks to the way social media and our devices. The habit of using a device to engage with a show while watching is called, second-screen viewing.

Second-screen adds the opportunity for connecting with other viewers and creating water-cooler conversation anytime of the day. It also helps television programs find their audience market more quickly and in a quality way. Second-screen has made it easier to track and understand the profiles of different viewers so as to more relevantly serve them. Second-screen matters, it’s a frequency that should be taken more seriously.

Further Reading

Are Companies Fishing To Keep Audiences? – Geoffresh Inc.

Second-screen wars heat up – J. Walter Thompsons 

TV’s most expensive airtime, in 10 factoids J. Swallen (Kantar)

Hey, Super Bowl Advertisers, Whatever Happened To Surprise Reveal? – Ben Frederick