July 2007 - Channel Crossing: DRTV

The Reasons for the Seasons

By Dick Wechsler

Seasonality has always been a big buzzword for me. It seems to preface everything we, as direct marketers, do. First quarter is always the best time of year. Second quarter is always the worst. The the third quarter offers some relief, and the fourth quarter-while often very promising-can be constrained by high media rates and limited inventory.

I’ve often wondered, “What drives seasonality? Are there tangible, measurable factors shaping this annual cycle?” The most likely catalyst would seem to be the size of the viewing audience. If the relationship between audience size and seasonality held true, then viewership should peak in January, reach a low point in May or June and then begin a steady climb beginning in July, culminating in a late December/January peak.

To validate or refute the seasonal hypothesis, we conducted a study charting viewership of adults aged 18 to 49 in standard dayparts by month on five cable networks from January 2005 through December 2006. The networks included A&E, BET, HGTV, THC and Food Network. (We didn’t include news or sports networks because their audiences are so dramatically affected by current events and specific sporting events.)

Here’s what the study revealed:

  • In January of both years, every network except Food Network had a spike in viewers. (Food Network’s seasonal spike came in November of each year-Thanksgiving);
  • BET’s prime time audience nearly doubled from June to July both years, then returned to normal levels in August;
  • Is A&E on steroids? Beginning October ’06, its audience began a long-term climb in all dayparts;
  • On weekends, HGTV and Food Network had distinct seasonal patterns, but with an uncharacteristic fall-off in December of ’06;
  • Across all networks and dayparts, viewership varied month to month; and
  • There was not enough audience fluctuation to substantiate seasonality.

What then are the reasons for these recurring trends? Why is October a terrible month for infomercials? Why are holiday weekends like Memorial Day and Labor Day bad for short-form DRTV but good for infomercials?

I contend that there are several factors at play. One is the quality of available inventory. In late December and early January, good inventory is widely available at favorable rates. As a result, commercials air in more highly rated pods. As we move further into the year, inventory becomes tighter, rates rise and DRTV commercials are likely to air in lower-rated pods. Fewer eyeballs for the dollar will almost always yield poorer results.

Why then do things seem to fall apart so dramatically from March and into April? The April 15 due date for income tax filing is a huge factor.

Unfortunately, seasonality cannot be explained by shifts in audience viewership alone. Consumer confidence, tax deadlines, preparing our children to go back to school, the holidays-everything plays a part. I just wish we could measure the impact of each of these!

Dick Wechsler is president and CEO of Lockard & Wechsler Direct, in Irvington, NY. He can be reached at (914) 591-6600, or via e-mail at [email protected].


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