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War 2.0: The Early Returns...
March 11, 2010

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OOWrestling.com


Well, kids... the numbers are in, and at the start of a new Monday Night War, I doubt EITHER side is super happy with things. But ultimately, we also ended up with the same winner and loser that we all expected.
WWE RAW pulled a 3.4 (on hours of 3.3 and 3.5, plus a 4.0 over-run). TNA Impact trailed in the far distance with a 1.0 (on hours of 1.0 and 0.9, with a 1.0 over-run).


You'll recall that I made a few basic predictions in my Monday Preview Column, and TNA came in WELL below what I'd guessed while RAW ended up towards the bottom end of the spectrum of their "Acceptability Range."
As part of a discussion about these ratings (including some jerkfaces pointing out how wrong I was) on the OO Forums, I wound up chiming in with a few thoughts about both RAW and Impact's numbers, why I made the predictions I did, why they might have under-performed those numbers, and then closed with yet another explanation of exactly how Nielsen ratings work, and the myriad ways the intarweb newz wankers clearly never took a math or stats class after 11th grade.
That's OK: from the sounds of things, the people running the damned wrestling companies didn't either, and they're mis-using the data in the exact same way. So at least they're all being wrong together. But I digress...
At the suggestion of a member of the forums, I'm reposting that message of mine for your edification and enjoyment. Read on, and be educated, OO Nation...

Addressing a few things that have come up in this thread:

(1) I did guess at roughly a 1.3 for TNA, and yes, it's because that's what they did in the head-to-head portion of the Mini-War on January 4. This edition of Impact had a bit less hype, but also had the benefit of WWE not coming even CLOSE to matching the "stunt-booking" of Bret Hart as competition. Also: no BCS game (or other significant sporting event of any kind) as competition for the target demo viewers.

(2) I guessed more vaguely for RAW -- I think I just put their "disappointment" rating at 3.3 and their "happy happy joy joy" rating at 3.8, and said they'd end up somewhere in the middle. Basically, I figured they'd be a BIT down versus their recent moving average, and probably even down from Jan. 4, since they offered up nothing in the way of (good) Stunt Booking in the face of direct TNA competition.

(3) Add those two guesses up, and what I was pretty much expecting was that the combined wrestling audience would work out roughly the same as it was on Jan. 4: a 5.0. Less effort by both companies to hype/sell the show with fancy bells and whistles, but also not much else on other channels to steal away eyeballs. Figured it'd be a wash. Instead, they teamed up for a 4.4. That's significantly below my expectations, to be blunt about it.

To be blunter: TNA contributed more to that underacheivement than WWE did. Matching Jan. 4's head-to-head would have been just about right on target, since they also came off of Jan. 4 and kept on with mostly the 1.2-1.3 ratings on Thursdays until a more recent slight downward trend... the combination of that built-in loyal audience and the "sexiness" of the move to Monday should have added up to them replicating a number in that range this week. They didn't. The under-performed, albeit not necessarily to any huge degree. WWE has done even worse than 3.4 in recent memory WITHOUT competition from TNA, so even though their number falls towards the bottom end of their "acceptability range," it's still not wholly disappointing.

And again: next week, with those scheduled RAW matches -- Shawn/Jericho to appeal to us wankers, Orton/HHH to appeal to mediocrity-hugging new fans, and Cena/Big Show smack dab in the middle in terms of marketability and potential to actually be good -- and Austin to boot? The road ahead ain't getting easier for TNA... luckily, I think they've got level-headed network execs who won't hit the panic button any time soon. Try not to drop too bad next week, try to keep your head above water through the WrestleMania and Brand Draft surge, and then get your damned roster and talent decisions figured out so that you lose The Suck and get RVD/Hardy/etc. worked into marketable storylines in lieu of Hall and X-Pac and the Nastys. All is not lost.

(4) Lastly, I've explained this countless times, but I'll re-repeat here since it came up.... anyone who gets worked up over one-week ratings variations of 0.2 or less just don't understand how statistical sampling works. You know when you read about polls for major political office, and even when it's the FUCKING PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES that's up for grabs, they're obligated to tell you that their results come with a margin of error of plus/minus roughly 3-5 percent? And then another poll comes, with the same margin of error, but a different end result? And then when America really shows up to vote, en masse, sometimes the final vote count is even a bit more out of whack? You really think some company charged with estimating how many diptards tuned into American Idol this week are taking THEIR job more seriously than Gallup?

No. Nielsen ratings are a statistical sample, and prone to error if you're talking about how many real eyeballs, across the nation, are watching. And that's fine: in reality, Nielsen's enterprise isn't to determine exactly how many eyeballs are watching a specific show... that company exists entirely for the purpose of ESTIMATING viewership so that companies have a ballpark idea of what they should pay to place their commercials on particular networks/shows. That's it. Insofar as that goes, Nielsen does its job well; in a marketplace where you're trying to reach tens of millions of viewers, being off by a couple hundred thousand isn't gonna make or break anyone's advertising budget. So it turns out, it's only what SOME people do with the numbers that turns things screwy.

Various arguments can be made about exactly what minute-by-minute or quarter-hour-by-quarter-hour changes in viewership really mean, but I tend to de-emphasize their importance, and consider them to be more like a company holding a focus group: a small number of people will behave a certain way when presented with a certain stimuli. And sometimes (a LOT of times, even), that's a valuable insight on how the consumer base, at large, will behave. But other times, focus groups will go on tilt (or their responses will be mis-interpreted), and you end up thinking that you have to ditch a proven recipe and introduce New Coke, and it'll be a HUGE MONEY-MAKING SUCCESS. Bzzzt.

Synthesizing: you consider the "focus group" analogy for minor and short-term fluctuations in ratings and then factor in the plain and simple mathematical margin of error for ANY sampling, and I arrive at a point where I believe you should pay little heed to single week variations of 0.2 or less (and seriously: any intarweb newz site you read that puts ratings data out to the SECOND decimal is just fucking clueless; those numbers are the precise measurements of NIELSEN'S SAMPLE and how people IN THE SAMPLE behaved, and THAT'S IT; they are only an approximation of the real national TV audience, not a true gain/loss of thousands or even tens-of-thousands of real viewers on a per-quarter-hour basis; things are statistically significant starting somewhere closer to the hundreds-of-thousands order of magnitude). However, trends and changes that replicate over time will have value, and the longer and longer those trends last, the smaller and smaller the fluctuations have to be to hold meaning for me. Little bumps even out, regression to the mean, Nielsen rotating their samples to prevent any data-skewering by deviant viewers having their opinions counted for more than a few weeks or months at a time, all that crap...

I keep a ratings spreadsheet for wrestling shows, just as a reference item for myself, and in case I ever want to present a chart or graph in support of a Special Feature Column or my random rantings... the sheet that I find has most value for me is the one where ratings are collected and presented as monthly averages. That's where you can see what's really happening. It's a short enough span of time that you can still remember/identify singular moments or watershed events, but it's also 4-5 weeks averaged together so that (to my way of thinking) even a fluctuation of 0.1 has SOME meaning month-to-month, whereas 0.2 tells me very little week-to-week.

Obviously, you can see where reading about Hogan and network execs obsessing over the minute-by-minute ratings sticks in my craw, and approximates the ultimate in wearing one's own ass as a hat. I'm not denying people -- real people, real viewers -- make minute-by-minute viewing decisions, and I'm not saying you can't learn SOMEthing by looking at those numbers if the fluctuations are substantial enough. I'm just saying that trying to micro-manage to that level is counter-productive, and what you want is for people to be showing up for 2 hours where they know they'll be entertained enough by the whole totality of the product to let some minor 90 second deviation slide, rather than using it as the excuse to flip the channel.

To bust out an old Rickism: "stickiness" is what you want. Make a whole 2-hour show people just can't quite escape from. Stickiness (in the macro) will always supercede suckiness (in the micro); people will forgive the little mistakes as long as you've got them to buy into the big picture. Stickiness is a core component of Sustainable Episodic TV, which you should all know damned well is the ultimate goal, cuz you can't Stunt Book 52 weeks per year to try to trick fringe fans into watching.

Taking that approach even makes you technology-proof: I mean, I may prefer to DVR/time-shift my wrestling, so I can fast-forward the little mistakes along with the commercials... but I'm STILL WATCHING, and that's the important thing. Convince people you're worth checking out by giving them more bad than good, and you'll end up in a far better place than if you try to micro-manage the product using error-prone data representing the rough average of millions of different individuals making different viewing decisions based on different criteria. The micro-managed result isn't the "Optimum Most Appealing To Everybody" Show... it's the show that theoretically appeals the most to some hypothetical "average" viewer that doesn't even really exist.

Big picture, dammit. Big picture.

Just my own damned opinion, anyway....


And then, while I was typing that, I got an email with some additional data, and I felt it dovetailed nicely with my rant about minor and short-term fluctuations, so I put this addendum at the end of my post...
EDIT TO ADD: just as an example of quarter-hour fluctuations WORTH mentioning, let me bring this up....
Impact basically did a 1.0 rating for EVERY QH, until the last/8th one, which dipped to a 0.7. Significant, even by MY standards. They came back up to a 1.0 for the overrun.
RAW was a bit more all-over-the-place for their QHs, probably suggesting a more legitimately-flippy audience, BUT: they did a 3.2 for the 7th QH, then jumped to a 3.6 in the 8th (exactly when TNA tumbled). Also significant. RAW then double-jumped up to a 4.0 for their overrun.
To me, all that's something that might actually be worth talking about, if one wanted to.... so feel free to entertain me with your analyses, kids....
And indeed, that did lead to a few interesting theories and suggestions about the intriguingly signficant QH fluctuations. You can check it out further in 
the Forums, or entertain me in private with your ideas by sending me an email.
Talk to again soon, folks. Maybe Monday with another War Previewening, if you think that's a trend that should continue? Lemme know...

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Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.



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