As a media organization, we always have our eye on the changing landscape, whether it’s tracking viewers migrating to digital platforms, cord cutting/shaving or the influx year-round high quality original programming across cable and SVOD providers. One of the stalwarts in the TV space continues to be the start of the fall primetime season across the broadcast networks. As the 2016-2017 season began, we watched and waited to see which freshman series would be the first to get the axe – and who would win the agency cancellation pool.
The industry standard definition for cancelled means “not returning,” regardless of whether the storyline was finished or not. In the past, a cancelled show has been cut and off the air immediately without further notice. The 2016-2017 primetime season has proven to be unlike any other, without any traditional cancellation 11 weeks into the season. Historically, networks have been far more trigger happy with swift cancellations. Wicked City was cancelled by ABC during the 15-16 season after only three episodes. In the 2014-2015 season, Manhattan Love Story also on ABC was axed after four episodes. No need to feel bad. We don’t remember them either.
This season, however, we’ve found that shows have been offered a new fate. As of October 25th, “Notorious has its first season cut to just 10 episodes (from 13). The show has not yet been canceled, however.” For Conviction,…”ABC declined to pick up the second half of its debut season” as of November 8th.“ The network will however keep the show on the air until all 13 filmed episodes have aired.” (source: metacritic.com) Last week, a similar fate was shared by CBS’s Pure Genius.
Eleven weeks into the new season, this is incredibly unusual. There is always a ready-to-be cancelled show in the mix after only a few episodes. According to tvline.com, less than half of the pilots pitched last year were ordered to a series, and six of those have already been canceled.
So far this season, quite a few shows have been extended to a full season. Examples being Designated Survivor, Speechless, Bull, Kevin Can Wait, MacGyver, Lethal Weapon and This is Us. Are networks not holding a high enough standard for quality programming? Or are networks willing to give shows more time to build an audience?
What exactly makes a great TV show? What qualities are we searching for as an audience?
- The pitch should be good
- It should talk about the topics people care about (love, family, work)
- The atmosphere should make you feel something
- It should not disappoint the fans
- The characters should have depth
- It should have the “little something that makes it good”
In our monthly fireside chat, we discussed several new programs in the lineup this broadcast year. Also included in the discussion were shows from CBS (Kevin Can Wait, Man With a Plan), NBC (Timeless, The Good Place), FOX (Pitch, The Exorcist) and CW (Frequency, No Tomorrow). Afterwards, we pulled rankings for a specific demo: Adults 25-54 (AD2554) under Live+3 (days), for the number of weeks a sample listing of programs aired between 9/19-11/21/16. There seems to be a pattern of noticeable decline in the ratings as the weeks progressed. It also gives a stronger indication of why Conviction and Notorious will not be continuing on the ABC network.
Despite being amongst the top performing shows, it is quite interesting how Bull, Designated Survivor and Kevin Can Wait dropped even more dramatically than the shows which are not being extended: Notorious and Conviction. This Is Us provided the best retention of viewers week after week.
Are “cord cutters” and “cord nevers” referring to Netflix and Hulu for past hit series and not bothering to watch anything new? With the video capability of DVRs and time constraints with schedules, are we becoming binge watchers instead of scheduling a weekly sit down for same day programming?
Ratings mogul Nielsen is focusing on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon’s attempts “to quantify total audiences per episode, age breakdown and indications as to whether viewers were more or less likely to follow a show on traditional TV.” (tuberfilter.com) There are 47 million Netflix subscribers in 2016 and 70% of those users binge-watch TV shows. As of May 2016, the subscriber base on has grown 30+ percent year over year, and reached over 12 million subscribers in the U.S. this year (adweek.com). Currently, 37% of US Millenials and 14% of GenX use Hulu. I would imagine these will only continue to increase as past hit series and new shows are continually added to the queue.
As part of a media agency, our decisions are concentrated heavily on demos, ratings, reach, context and pricing. We need these components to consider which new and/or returning shows are most worthy of our client’s advertising dollars. The prospective audience has more entertainment choices in TV programming than ever before. They can determine when, where and how they want to watch their favorite programs. Obviously, there is a risk strategy when choosing a freshman show with new content, making it necessary to stay in-tune with primetime shows and their levels of popularity.
Only the test of time will tell which of these new programs are fit to last more than just one season. A successful series in today’s terms might not have high standards to sustain the longevity seasons of The Simpsons (28), Law & Order (20), ER (15), NCIS (14), Grey’s Anatomy (13), and Friends (10) (wikipedia.org). The program only needs to be just good enough to beat out the newbie competition to win the survival process.