Seven Sharp, Campbell Live and TV Ratings – The ‘Nudge’ Factor

University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler and Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein  wrote a generally well-received book in 2008 called ‘Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness‘.

It was an accessible assemblage of very well known work in psychology and related disciplines on the biases in human thinking. Interestingly, Sunstein worked for the Obama administration in the ‘Office of Administration and Regulatory Affairs’.

One of the biases highlighted in the book is the so-called ‘Status Quo Bias‘:

This is when people are very likely to continue a course of action since it has been traditionally the one pursued, even though this course of action may clearly not be in their best interest. An example of the status-quo bias at work would be when magazine companies offer trials of their magazines for free, but then, after the trial has ended, continue to send magazines and charge the customer until he or she actively ends the subscription. This leads to many people receiving and paying for magazines they do not read.

In the prime time television business, networks take advantage of this bias by vying for the ratings poll position for their evening news bulletin. ‘Lock in’ of the evening audience at this point flows on through the evening viewership (presumably with diminishing returns as the evening progresses).

Of course, historically the status quo bias also can be seen in what are termed ‘viewing habits’. In New Zealand, Television One (TVNZ) and its corresponding evening news, has had the advantage of establishing itself as the ‘status quo’ option simply because it was the first ‘kid on the block’ (or ‘cab off the rank’), historically.

In that light, it’s interesting to examine the latest TV Ratings (9 April) to compare the extent to which the two competing current affairs shows – TV One’s ‘Seven Sharp’ and TV3’s Campbell Live’ – have done in relation to taking advantage of the ‘status quo’ bias.

Raw ratings figures are from ‘Throng‘ with my own calculations of ‘Retention Rate’ (The inverse calculation might be the ‘Bleed Rate’):

  • One News 652,280
  • Seven Sharp 474,570
  • Retention rate = 72.76%
  • TV3 News 256,100
  • Campbell Live 214,870
  • Retention Rate = 83.9%

From the most recent figures at least, it seems that Seven Sharp has greater trouble taking advantage of the ‘status quo’ bias than does Campbell Live.

There must be something about Seven Sharp, in comparison to Campbell Live, that provokes its channel’s viewers to turn away – or turn off – in greater numbers and proportions.

When it comes to the ‘Nudge’ factor, Seven Sharp seems to excel at nudging viewers away from TV One.

I wonder why that is?

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5 Responses to Seven Sharp, Campbell Live and TV Ratings – The ‘Nudge’ Factor

  1. If you take a look at this, you can see that the retention of audience from One News to Seven Sharp has improved, while 3 News to Campbell Live has gotten worse.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Regan,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, and for the link – very interesting.

      On the information in that link there’s a few points I’d make. The first is a question: Do you have a statistical analysis (rather than graphical representation) of the relationship between TV3 News viewership and Campbell Live’s figures over recent years? It’s a bit hard to tell whether or not there has been a statistically significant change in that relationship just by eyeballing. It does seem like Seven Sharp has improved its own performance in that regard over the period depicted but it is still worse at retention than is Campbell Live, it seems.

      Second, I wouldn’t put too much emphasis – as you do in that post – on the ‘experiment’ of having Campbell Live replaced for one Friday (Good Friday) by Road Cops. That show may well appeal to a very different audience (e.g., how were TV2 and TV1 viewer figures in that slot that day?). Imagine replacing, for one night, TV3 News with something like Top Gear – you may well see a jump well above the ordinary news programme viewership, especially as a one-off. But I don’t think that tells us much about the performance of the news bulletin as a news bulletin (just that it’s less popular than a generally more popular type of show). I suppose it would matter if the channel were happy to dispense with the news – which may well be the case with Campbell Live and its ‘review’. But that simply means that the channel is moving out of current affairs because current affairs isn’t dragging in enough numbers given its market position.

      Finally, I always think that it’s best to be very cautious about assuming that ‘numbers’ speak to us straightforwardly. So far as I’m aware, there’s no good scientifically-tested theory of viewer behaviour (perhaps you know of one?), which would allow us to understand why Campbell Live audiences have declined. I know in business it is common for decisions to be made without a good understanding of the basis (and therefore the meaning) of such numbers but that doesn’t mean that the decisions are right or even justified. It just means that ‘making a decision’ and ‘changing things’ in response to supposed ‘bad numbers’ is just how businesses (and their top executives) happen to operate.

      Once again, thanks for the thought-provoking link.


  2. Don says:

    I used to think tv3 news was better than one’s, but now it seems to be a promo tool for other tv3 programmes. Campbell seems to lose it’s viewers at 6 pm when they no longer watch tv3 news.
    Also, advertisers are just as interested in who is watching as they are in how many. It would be interesting to know if campbell’s audience is more attractive, and to whom

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi don,

      An interesting comment.

      I seem to remember some years ago when ‘Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman’ was suddenly axed – maybe mid-season? – yet was rating highly. The problem, as you mentioned, was that the people watching weren’t the big-spending demographic (I think they were considered too old) so advertisers weren’t keen to advertise during the programme. That simply confirms that broadcast television (and most other ‘media’) are less about providing something to viewers than they are about providing viewers to advertisers. In that game some viewers are more equal than others.

      Apparently it’s called ‘business’, which is fine except I just wish they’d be honest and admit that they aren’t really interested in doing anything for ‘us’ (the viewers). When our interests part company with those of advertisers we get to take the seats at the rear of the bus.

      Thanks again for the comment!


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