Ratings aren’t just about the overnight numbers any more: @iZombieObsessed

This morning I read an article on the website iZombie Obsessed about fear that Rob Thomas’ newest show could be cancelled after a second season because ratings are declining, and what fans can do to prevent that. It appears that this information has come from The Cancellation Bear, a character that’s part of the TV by the Numbers website. Yes, ratings are the primary measurement for whether or not a show is renewed or cancelled, but they have to be analysed in context, and the changing way we watch television informs how those decisions are made. I’m not guaranteeing that iZombie won’t be cancelled at the end

Here’s some context in regards to the CW’s schedule: iZombie is paired with The Flash, which is the CW’s highest rated show. Yes, the viewership drops in the second hour, but the fact that the CW is willing to put those shows on the same night is a sign that they think that The Flash‘s audience will also enjoy iZombie. That they ordered five additional scripts for the show before the second season premiere is another sign that the network values the show. Also: just because there’s a decline in audience numbers, it doesn’t mean that those numbers are bad. Despite a fantastic slate of original programming (Mo Ryan’s article about Mark Pedowitz and The CW is a must-read), the CW is still a tiny network, the baby sister of CBS. When people talk about the broadcast networks and where they place, the CW is automatically excluded. None of the shows on the CW are NCIS or Empire, so we shouldn’t be expecting iZombie to be getting those kinds of numbers. Remember NBC’s Thursday Night comedy block? Community and Parks and Recreation never had great ratings, but Community got five seasons at NBC (and one at Yahoo), and Parks and Recreation got six. At their peak both were great shows, but the ratings were so poor that there was always fear of cancellation. However, NBC was performing so poorly at the time that it was a better bet to keep airing comedies with a guaranteed small audience than replace it with an unknown.

I could probably pay more attention to ratings than I do, but as an overseas viewer of American content, there’s not really anything I can do to keep the show on the air. Hannibal lasted for three years because of broadcast licensing outside the US, and given that iZombie is being fast-tracked in Australia on Stan, I’m sure that CBS and Warner Brothers are making money off the show that way as well. DVR numbers also need to be taken into account with Live+7 ratings. Furthermore, as we reach the era of Peak TV, there are more shows and content providers, which means that viewership isn’t going to be as large as it used to be, except in the case of Empire. In his latest ‘Ask Alan‘ video, Alan Sepinwall answered a question about why none of the new fall shows have been cancelled yet. He made the point that if a show performs poorly in a certain timeslot, there’s no guarantee that NCIS reruns are going to perform any better because there are so many other shows on. Some shows, like Fox’s Minority Report, have had their episode orders cut, which is a sign that they won’t be back next season. As I said earlier however, iZombie had its episode order increased from 13 to 18 before the season premiered, which is the opposite of what’s happening to shows that will definitely be cancelled.

Finally, there’s the Cancel Bear himself. As I said earlier, I don’t pay much attention to ratings, and TV by the Numbers is a good guide, but it’s not infallible. Furthermore, Myles McNutt wrote about the Cancel Bear two years ago, and provides the rules within which ‘he’ operates:

The Cancellation Bear is built around a fairly innocuous metaphor and a logical read on how the television industry works. It’s a metaphor that frames series on the same broadcast network against one another, being chased by a bear: in order to survive, a show doesn’t need to outrun the bear, but simply needs to outrun the other shows the bear will stop to devour first. It’s built around the relativity of television ratings, which TV By The Numbers argues is best considered within—rather than between—individual broadcast networks.

Based on this, I can understand why iZombie fans would be worried – The Bear is comparing their favourite show to the CW’s most popular, which is its lead in. Once again, you don’t give your show the best possible lead-in if you think it’s dead in the water, the CW has confidence in this show. What’s more telling is this section of McNutt’s post:

[TV by the Numbers] uses the Cancellation Bear as a front behind which it can insult “desperate fans” who would choose to look on the bright side.

iZombie is a cult show with less than stellar ratings. From Myles’ perspective, getting fans to worry about their favourite show being cancelled is part of The Bear’s appeal. Go and read the whole post, it’s even more true today than it was when it was written. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t love a show because you’ll be devastated when it’s cancelled. I’m still upset about Bunheads. I’m just saying that there are more factors that need to be taken into consideration than there were even five years ago, and combined with what I see as The CW’s confidence in iZombie makes me optimistic we’ll see a third season.

Other thoughts:

  • I love this show, but I’m starting to think that things generally shouldn’t go beyond five or six seasons as a general rule.

Ratings and Cancellations: The Demise of Seven’s “A Place to Call Home”

A Place to Call Home aired its final episode last night, even though there was a three year plan for the show. In early June, the Seven Network announced that they would not air a third season. I have read at least a dozen letters to the Green Guide bemoaning this decision in the past six weeks, mainly asking “Why did they do this? The new storylines have been so good!”. Seven’s comment was that it “was a programming decision, not a creative one”. It’s rare that scripted programmes are cancelled in Australia, unless they perform terribly in the ratings. On more than one occasion, the creators have chosen to end the shows on their own terms. The first instance of this was in 2000, when the creators of the fantastic ABC drama SeaChange ended the show after three years, and it happened again in 2013 when the creators of Packed to the Rafters made the same decision. Given that it was a programming decision made by the network, the ratings would have been a factor.

Commercial networks make the majority of their profits off of ad sales. The higher a show is rated means they can charge more money to organisations that want to buy ad time during that programme. Since scripted dramas are more expensive to produce than reality competition programmes, it is much easier to make a profit on a highly rated reality programme than a modestly rated scripted drama. In addition, the demographics of the audience are important; advertisers target consumers in the 18-49 demographic, who they believe are more likely to buy the products that are being advertised. On June 5, 2014, not long before A Place to Call Home was cancelled, Paul Kalina of The Age suggested that the show was in trouble because 58% of its audience was comprised of the over 55 demographic. Even though the series 2 premiere attracted just under 1 million viewers, it was a significant drop from the series premiere with 1.47 million (The Age).

Another factor that needs to be taken into account is how well the show rates for the network on which it is airing. The cancellation of the cult hit sitcom Community provides some context. For many years, NBC was the worst performing network in the United States, which meant that Community, a show that had a small but loyal following, was renewed for five seasons, when it would have been cancelled if it had been on any other network. The only thing working in its favour is that the ratings were consistent. In the 2013-2014 ratings period however, NBC moved from the fourth placed network to the first, and at the 2014 upfronts, they announced that they had cancelled Community. (The show has since been resurrected by Yahoo! for a sixth season in the streaming service’s attempt to move into original programming.) Community’s status as a cult hit was enough to keep it alive when NBC had trouble attracting large audiences, but now that the network is more successful, they’re focusing on programming that can attract larger audiences. Looking at the numbers in a broader context like this provides more understanding as to why Seven decided to cancel A Place to Call Home.

On Sunday June 6thA Place to Call Home was the 8th highest rated show on free-to-air television in Australia for the day, with 957,000 viewers. At 9th place was Ten’s MasterChef Australia with 909,000 viewers. MasterChef is one of Ten’s highest rated programmes; if A Place to Call Home was on Channel Ten, it would have a higher chance of being renewed, as Ten placed fourth in the 2013 ratings period behind even the ABC. Seven however, is the first placed network, and A Place to Call Home had a very good lead-in that night, behind the highest rated show for the night, the finale of the reality competition programme House Rules, which had 1.988 million viewers. This is where the cancellation makes the most sense. House Rules competed against MasterChef for a timeslot. After those two shows finished, A Place to Call Home only performed marginally better than a show that competed against its lead-in, and lost over half of that lead-in’s audience. While we form an attachment to the shows we love (at least I do, and I know that sounds weird), television is a business, and A Place to Call Home was underperforming for a business that is making more money with different programmes.