Category Archives: TV Industry

On the Edge of Something Wonderful: The Power of Passion

There are TV shows that we enjoy watching but don’t give much thought to when they end. Then there are those shows that shape who we are forever. Over the past six months, I’ve fallen in love with Girl Meets World. I fall well outside the target audience for the Disney Channel, as I grew up with Boy Meets World reruns on the network. The lessons that show taught me have stayed with me as I’ve aged and have meant even more when I look back at them. Just as Boy Meets World taught me to do good all those years ago, it’s successor is proving equally valuable for all those growing up with Riley and Maya.

When news of Girl Meets World’s cancellation broke a little over a week ago, fans proved just how much they have taken the message of the show to heart. In “Girl Meets Pluto”, they learned how to hope and hold on to dreams. They learned that it is up to them to decide what is important to them and what will become a part of their own personal histories. In “Girl Meets Creativity”, they learned to fight for the things that matter to them. They learned that it was important to find and hold on to the things that inspire them and to carry those things with them. That is exactly what they have done.

Fan campaigns aren’t uncommon in the world of television. Jericho fans sent peanuts to CBS, Chuck fans consumed a lot of Subway, and CSI fans sent in money and hired planes to do a banner flyover of the studios to convince them to keep Jorja Fox on the show. Hashtags asking networks to save shows pop up every spring before upfronts. In this new media environment, there is more hope than ever than a cancelled favorite will be picked up by another network. Yahoo acquired Community, Hulu got The Mindy Project, Netflix continued Longmire, and CMT gave Nashville a new home. Despite these successes, it’s still a long shot. But these fans didn’t let that stop them.

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An Introduction to Television Ratings

We’re a couple weeks into the new fall season and with that, I have new ratings data to look at in the mornings! I first started looking into the concept of ratings after Lie to Me was cancelled in order to better understand why some shows stay on the air and some don’t. The way they are reported can be a little confusing and it gets difficult to parse what information is most important and I know there is a tendency without certain fandoms to excessively worry over ratings or misconstrue them in a way that suits their own spin on a show so it is my hope that this guide helps clarify the different numbers that are reported on and how they can be used by networks to determine a show’s fate for another season.

What Are Ratings Used For?

While creating a show is a creative endeavor, keeping it on the air is a business decision so ratings are a marketing tool. They primarily exist to sell you to advertisers. High ratings (whether overall or in a particularly marketable demographic) means that advertising during a particular program becomes more desirable to do as the reach will be greater. From a non-business perspective, ratings data that is collected can also demonstrate some of the cultural reach of a program. More people watching a particular show tends to result in a greater impact on pop culture, especially when talking to casual viewers. While not used or measured in the same way, social media data can also be used to demonstrate fan engagement, which becomes important when scheduling cons or creating merchandise.

How Are They Collected?

The ones we see reported are collected by Nielsen and are based on a statistical sampling of the US. This means that not every person in the US is measured, just those taken from a representative sample. The numbers are then extrapolated to provide greater information on the total US viewing population. Ratings are collected through both viewing diaries and television-connected devices in selected homes to judge what was watched.

What Do They Mean?

The morning after shows air, live plus same day ratings are released. Two numbers are most often reported, the total number of viewers and the 18-49 rating. Total number of viewers is self-explanatory. The number is often interesting but of less use to advertisers. Traditionally, they have most cared about viewers between the ages of 18 and 49. They are less interested in raw numbers, but rather look at a percentage and that is the A18-49 number.

For example, this week Empire got a 5.5 A18-49 rating, meaning that 5.5% of adults 18-49 watched the show either as it aired or on their DVRs later that night.

Ratings data is also released for larger time periods. A show’s L+3, L+7, and L+30 are also reported as they become available to demonstrate viewers over a three, seven, and 30 day time period. While these aren’t the ratings that are important to advertisers, who are more concerned with the number of people who watched the commercials in a show in a three-day period, it does provide extra informations to networks about the way in which their show is being watched.

How Are They Used?

Typically, ratings of shows across networks are irrelevant to a show’s future. It is the network average that most matters to a show. Things that are performing well under the average A18-49 rating for the network are more in danger of being cancelled than a show performing at or above the average. Averages change season-to-season and tend to drop across all networks as viewing becomes more fragmented and cable shows and streaming gain more prominence. Shows also tend to drop between seasons as viewers cut the cord or simply lose interest between seasons.  

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The Same but Better: How The Mindy Project Transitioned from FOX to Hulu

Yesterday, The Mindy Project made its online debut. After being canceled by FOX at the end of its 3rd season, the show found a new home on Hulu to go along with their exclusive streaming rights to the first 3 seasons. It’s not the first loved-but-low-rated comedy to be rescued from cancellation by an online service. Netflix started the trend when they revived Arrested Development and Yahoo jumped on the bandwagon with Community last year. However, based on the first episode, I would argue that The Mindy Project is the show that has best made the transition.

Transitioning a show between broadcast and streaming not only gives its creators and stars a second chance to tell their story but also comes with some creative perks. Online services tend to give fewer notes on individual scripts meaning that more of the creative control rests in the hands of the showrunners. They are also not tied to traditional episode lengths of 21-22 minutes for a comedy. They can get away with racier or more controversial material because there aren’t concerns about the FCC or, I’d imagine, quite as many viewers complaining about the content.

As the first up at bat, Arrested Development had a lot to prove. It had been years since the last episode had aired and just getting the cast back at all and coordinating filming schedules was a feat in itself. As a result, we ended up with a season that produced mixed reactions. In order to work around external complications, they had to change the basic format of the show so that it could be told by as few actors as possible at any one time. It took me a while to get through the 13 episodes and ultimately, I appreciated what they tried to do with the show more than I actually enjoyed the results. I hear it works better on a second watch, but it’s not a high priority for me to test that claim. It was much more of a reboot as opposed to a pure transition.

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Being a Consumer in the Time of Peak TV

During the Television Critics Association press tour last month, FX president John Landgraf made headlines with his pronouncement that we are experiencing the peak time for television in terms of the number of scripted shows being produced. Estimates put the total number of original shows airing in 2015 above 400, continuing the increases in TV quantity seen over the past few years. It has inspired a slew of articles by critics about the truth behind the statement and their own feelings on the matter, all of which I would recommend to all interested.

They have all made some great insights about the way that having such a bounty of television means that stories by and about different sorts of people are able to make on air when they may have previously been looked over and how small shows have been allowed to thrive on networks just getting into the scripted programming race. 

Rather than simply recap their opinions, I wanted to take a look at what the era of Peak TV means for consumers. In a time when even people who are paid to watching television and share their thoughts with us are unable to keep up with the quantity of good shows, how are the rest of us dealing with Too Much TV and what does it mean for the list of shows we want to watch that I know we all have?

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