Schedule Significance, Tweet Trouble: 5 Lessons Learned From Premiere Week
Patience matters (but social doesn't) as the networks put the best face on ratings: "There are vestiges of programming strategies from years ago that still work."
A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Each network boasts at least one win, but TV's annual fall premiere week brought a reminder that the days of counting on same-day viewers are over. The Big Four's primetime ratings among adults 18-to-49 dropped 13 percent, year to year. As they downplay those numbers, and trumpet the first round of time-shifting, here are other trends that quickly are emerging.
1. Schedules Still Matter
While live audiences are declining, plenty still watch the old-fashioned way — so scheduling is important. Fox's Rosewood, with dismal reviews, benefitted from its Empire adjacency to earn a 2.8 rating in the key demo over three days. Shonda Rhimes' three-hour Thursday lineup remains lucrative for ABC, as does the net's four-pack of sitcoms the night before."That comedy block on Wednesday has done remarkably well," says analyst Brad Adgate: "There are vestiges of these programming strategies from years ago that still work."
2. Blaming Doesn’t Work
Talking points ran the gamut. Fox's Minority Report supposedly fell victim to like-minded Scorpion on CBS; Scream Queens courted a young demo that doesn't own TVs; and ABC's Blood & Oil was ineffective against football. Another excuse gathering steam: two-hour premieres feel like work. Scream Queens and NBC's soft Heroes Reborn followed FX's low debut for Kurt Sutter's The Bastard Executioner (also a 120-minute bow).
3. Awareness Won’t Always Help Reboots
Familiar titles topped the list of shows viewers knew about going into the fall, but that did not translate to an audience — unless, of course, Ms. Piggy is involved. (The Muppets premiere delivered a 3.8 three-day rating with adults 18-to-49 for ABC.) CBS' Limitless, based on the 2011 sci-fi thriller starring Bradley Cooper, got off to a promising start, but Heroes Reborn, even with a solid 3.1 rating in its first live-plus-3 showing, hemorrhaged viewers in each half-hour of its two-hour opener. And Minority Report, executive produced by Steven Spielberg, already slid to a 0.9 same-day showing in its second episode. "I think having familiar IP is an advantage, and yet you’re held to the same standards as with everything else you do," says Fox Television Group chairman and CEO Gary Newman. "Even if none of those shows ends up working, you won’t see us shy away from rebooting what we think is great IP."
4. Social Media Cachet Is a Crapshoot
A correlation between tweets and ratings remains tenuous. Empire performed insanely well on both social (1.3 million tweets) and TV (a bonkers 8.7 in the key demo rating and 22.5 million multiplatform viewers). Scream Queens trended Sept. 22, yet registered only 4 million night-of viewers (it nearly doubled after three days of streaming, DVR and VOD). "It's a great indicator for the level of passion in our viewer," insists Newman, who, with counterpart Dana Walden, has touted Queens' social stats and robust multiplatform plays. "When we go to the next markets with these shows, be it SVOD, consumer products or syndication, it's a great measure of a likely success."
5. Patience Remains a Virtue (and a Luxury)
Even the most fervent ratings-watchers now find premiere week a bore — it provides little insight into the decisions programmers are going to make. The fate of most scripted series isn’t decided without at least 30 days of multiplatform data. "We no longer look at same-day numbers (or even live-plus-3-days)," Fox's David Madden recently told THR, with NBC's Jennifer Salke adding, "We need to look for growth potential more than anything else." Another exec calls out good same-day ratings as irrelevant "ego gratification."