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Anticipation Drives Big Viewer Bumps to Off-Air Shows

Nielsen’s rankings of online streaming of network shows in February had on top, with Lost taking first place at 2.5 million uniques and 48 million total streams. That’s up from 1.4 million viewers in December, when Lost also won when it wasn’t even airing fresh episodes. It seems ABC’s strategy of offering free HD streams of all five seasons of the show has paid off.

ABC, in fact, took nine of the top ten spots for the month, with SNL on NBC the only outside entrant at No. 8. But — hold on a second. Though Nielsen apparently does count viewers of embedded network players (which ABC does not offer for full-length shows, but other networks do), the service does not count other people’s hosting of network shows. That means, most significantly, that Fox and NBC on Hulu are entirely left out. What would be infinitely better is overall digital rankings, with Hulu and iTunes data included, but unfortunately that’s not an option at the moment.

Still, a worthy trend to take from this incomplete data is that video content can be massively popular even when a show is off the air. In anticipation of this month’s premiere of the latest season of Dancing with the Stars, Nielsen measured 1.5 million unique viewers for the show, bringing it to second place and beating out on-air shows like Grey’s Anatomy (third place with 1.3 million uniques) and The Bachelor (fourth place with 962,000 uniques). What’s crazy is there weren’t even episodes of the series available at the time — unlike for Lost, ABC wiped its site clean of archived Dancing with the Stars episodes months ago, and was only offering short promotional clips like “Learn the Waltz,” embedded above.

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