Caitlyn Jenner is running the clock and not looking back.
Despite reports to the contrary, The Advocate has learned she is proving just as dominating in the sport of television as she was in the Olympics almost 40 years ago.
Jenner's docu-series,I Am Cait, has been reported to be "struggling" by Hollywood trade journalists, but according to a source inside E!, the view is that "the ratings are fine." Another source said the actual number of the most highly prized viewers each week "nearly doubles."
The debut episode turned in what by all accounts was a gold medal performance, attracting 2.7 million viewers. Entertainment Weekly reported the show's second episode drew roughly half the audience of the premiere: only 1.292 million viewers. Forbes reported the third episode lost even more viewers, with just over 1 million tuned in. As recently as Sunday, another Forbes article described the ratings as "low."
Radar Online gleefully reported the ratings received their only boost, and just briefly, when members of the Kardashian clan made an appearance: 1.322 million viewers tuned in for the fourth episode, according to Nielsen. Both Keeping Up With the Kardashians and I Am Cait are produced by Bunim/Murray Productions, and appear on E!, an entertainment network owned by Comcast NBC Universal.
Advertising executive Tim Maleeny, chief strategy officer for Havas Worldwide, seemed to be stringing a rope on the gallows when he wrote in Fortune Monday: "The show's poor ratings have prompted most big advertisers to give it a wide berth and leave the media mavens who predicted a hit wondering what went wrong."
But just as the unwritten law of reading articles on the Internet is "never read the comments," the secret to understanding television ratings is "never worry about the overnight numbers."
"The live/same day ratings do not tell a complete story in regards to I Am Cait viewers," Christel Wheeler tells The Advocate in an email. "It's a much sexier story to say that ratings are in free fall, which is completely untrue. The L3 numbers show the docu-series is steady, with an average of 2.5M total viewers."
"L3" and "L+3" are Nielsenspeak for "live show plus 3," or three days after a program is shown on TV.
Yes, thanks to DVRs, more Americans are time-shiftimg their television watching, and the ratings company isn't discounting that habit.
A source inside E! provided this easy-to-understand explanation to The Advocate from an internal memo congratulating the I Am Cait team for episode 3:
"I know, it is confusing. Bottom line, the live number means nothing anymore due to DVR. It is the 3 day number, which is how we sell all of our shows.
"The great headline for the night is that when you look at the three day rating for Sundays show and also add up the repeats that same night, you get the following total number.
"I Am Cait ep#103 delivered an impressive 3.8M Total Unique Viewers [counting each viewer only once even if they watch more than once] across all three airings for the night (L+3)
"If you want to get a bit more granular, the number we pay most attention to is the rating with the audience 18-49 as that is what advertisers love.
"As a general marker, in this crazy tv environment, whenever that number is north of 900k on the three day rating for the target demo, that is really strong. And this last week, we were nearly 1.3 million in that demo."
"Demo" is another Nielsen word, short for demographic, or a particular audience grouped by gender and age. As the memo hinted, advertisers pay more to have their commercials on shows that draw strong "demos," such as those between the ages of 18 and 49.
According to this E! internal memo, episode 3 of I Am Cait drew 84 percent more eyeballs via DVR three days after it originally was shown, and that performance was said to be down only 4 percent from the prior week. That's a lot better view for both E! and its sponsors than can be found in the trade reports. The memo put it this way:
"When you add up the repeats from the episode so far during the week, we probably added another 1.5 - 2 million eyeballs. So somewhere around 5.2 million people watched episode 103 of I AM CAIT on E! this week. That is indeed impressive. Drives me crazy when gossip rags report live ratings when as we can see, the number nearly doubles with the 3 day.
"So, in short, YAY."
Officially, E! tells The Advocate that I Am Cait is one of this year's top five new TV series across all of cable, among those most highly desired viewers aged 18 to 49, behind AMC's Better Call Saul, Discovery Network's Naked & Afraid XL, HBO's Ballers, and Spike's Lip Sync Battle.
And for context, E! says Jenner's show is ahead of its major competition on the other entertainment networks, including Black Ink Crew on VH1 and The Game on BET.
E!'s Wheeler also shared data with The Advocate to bolster its contention that the show is "largely stable" post-premiere, hovering between 1.2 and 1.3 million viewers aged 18-49, averaging 2.5 million "Total Viewers," meaning viewers of all ages and genders watching the show every Sunday.
With this kind of information at its disposal, you'd think E! would be jumping at the chance to renew I Am Cait for a second season, but there's no official word yet on whether that is in the offing.
The Advocate turned to Jenner's friend and I Am Cait adviser Jenny Boylan for her view of the show's chances. "I'd be shocked if there wasn't a season 2," said Boylan in an online message, "but then nothing shocks me anymore."
I Am Cait is available free online and on E! Sundays at 8 p.m. Eastern.