What's rating on pay TV?

Sport still rules on subscription television, but just don't look at the numbers, please.

According to most ratings data, sport remains the most popular offering on pay TV. Last week NRL, AFL and the Bledisloe Cup pulled the biggest audiences taking all 10 of the top 10 titles for the week.

An Eels vs. Roosters match on FOX Sports averaged 226,000 in five metropolitan cities.

The top non-sports event for the week was the Star Trek movie on Showtime 61,000 viewers.

Considering Showtime is not a channel that is offered as part of Foxtel's basic subscription packages, that's not a bad achievement. Yet other shows on the same platform, including the second season of the locally-produced Tangle, failed to make the top 100 shows for the week.

The pay TV industry is notoriously shy in giving out ratings figures because it views a comparison with free-to-air figures as an unfair fight, and in many ways that's true.

Subscription television is available in about 30 per cent of Australian homes (Foxtel in cities, Austar in regional), but not everybody subscribes to every channel. The programming model is also based around repeats, with time-shifted channels and several replays of many titles.

When it comes to averaging an audience, as free-to-air ratings do, that results in a show's average figure coming down rather than up. Much of this detail isn't understood via a quick glance at raw numbers.

Ratings are also not the driving force of a service that seeks to offer a variety of entertainment for its customers.

Peter Rose, CEO of Showtime, says there are other factors to consider in measuring a show's performance.

"New research indicates that Showcase is the most heavily PVR-ed channel in the Foxtel/Austar environment and almost 50 per cent of our subscriber usage is via PVR [Personal Video Recorder] playback," he said.

"We are exceptionally pleased with the new season launch of Tangle, which had a weekly cumulative reach of over 40 per cent, compared to the launch episode of the previous season."

"Cumulative reach" takes into account the number of viewers who have engaged with the show for five minutes or more -- again a different measurement than free-to-air's averaging method.

But ratings were cited when the Comedy Channel chose to dump David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon and Jay Leno from its late night schedule. Many viewers were upset by the move and in online forums have asked the channel to play them in an earlier slot.

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