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The State of Broadcast Networks - Part I - CBS

As the season draws close, we start getting pumped about our returning shows and the good looking freshmen shows. I’m sure many of you, tv fans, have wondered about the fate of your shows: questions like “is it going to get renewed? Cancelled? What’s going to happen?” surely have crossed your mind, but have you ever thought about the decision making process? Believe it or not, networks have a hard time cancelling some shows; surely, if the show performed poorly from day 1 there is not much attachment to it: for instance, FOX didn’t care much to cancel Lone Star after 2 episodes and they never showed another episode ever again, not even online. But nevertheless, even if it performs poorly, it means that the network bet on the wrong horse, and that’s never easy to admit.
Sometimes, the network will do just about anything in their power to keep a show going: FOX did this with Fringe: they did their best to keep in the air for as long as they could, even when the ratings were outright bad, even for a Friday night. And not only FOX has done so, NBC has kept Community, CBS has spared The Good Wife, the CW had mercy on Gossip Girl so it could have an ending and even ABC (sometimes merciless at the time to cancel) did everything it could to keep shows like Private Practice on air for as long as possible.

All those shows have something in common: they had 3 seasons or more when the ratings trouble began. So, we can assume broadcast networks do consider seniority; shows that they have had for more than 2 seasons are not so easily cancelled or pulled out of schedule: let’s tackle down The Good Wife again, a show very low rated by CBS standards. It was already a marginal performer in season 2, and by season 3 many considered it should have been cancelled, yet here we are, and the show is entering its 5th season. So why? Why is it alive? One of the mayor factors is syndication, in which the producing company for a tv show sells said show to another network (often cable) to broadcast it Monday through Friday to air repeats; this is a massive money maker for the producing company. Most shows are sold to syndication when they are in the range of 88-100 episodes (although there are exceptions), and so the producing company of a certain tv show will make almost any kind of deal in order to save a show which is about to enter a 4th season (usually, at the end of season 4 a show reaches 88 episodes if every season had 22 episodes, which is the case for many shows). They can reduce taxes fees for the network, make budget cuts or even try shopping the show to a cable network (which worked out great for Cougar Town). They will try to do everything in their power to save a show in its third season. However, this rule is not absolute; it depends on the state each broadcast network.

That’s with veteran shows, what can we say about freshman shows? What factors do apply to them? Let’s take for instance, NBC: why was Hannibal renewed with considerable lower ratings than Go On even though they were both freshmen shows? Why was Deception cancelled while its average was almost the same as the network’s scripted show average? On FOX, why was The Mindy Project renewed when it hit as low as a 1.3, while Ben & Kate was cancelled even when it managed to hit a 1.4? We’ll see why right away, we’re going to analyze the state of each broadcast network, but first we need to consider this: what is an acceptable rating?

The so much needed rating: there’s some kind of a consensus around what ratings are considered to be good; this is different for scripted shows and unscripted: scripted shows tend to be more expensive than unscripted, so most of the time they need higher rating. And that rating is usually considered to be a 2.0 on the 18-49 demographics; almost any show that gets that rating or above is guaranteed to have another season, below that it will have a harder road ahead... or so it was until last season: last season there were so many drops that most networks had no other choice to lower the bar, and soon 1.7 became the new 2.0, and even lower ratings seemed acceptable for networks like ABC, FOX and NBC.

Season by season, the ratings for television shows have declined; this can be due to the new ways of watching television: streaming, downloads, DVR, all of it seems to affect it, and now the landscape of television looks to be everyday more influenced by facebook likes and twitter posts rather than actual ratings. Of course, TV shows hasn't adapted to this new formula yet, and so ratings still are the main drive to decide wherever a show lives or die, but it is undeniable that it is going to change eventually, sooner rather than later if you ask me.

The past season saw huge ratings drops, worse than most networks could have imagined; NBC managed to remain flat, which was kind of a miracle for them after dropping season after season for so many years now, but that doesn't mean their ratings are good; most of their scripted programming didn't crack the 2.0 rating, and they heavily depended on The Voice. The CW managed to find another hit aside from “The Vampire Diaries” with “Arrow” and now that “Supernatural” is also performing well, they have hopes of rebuilding their network. However, CBS, ABC and FOX were badly hurt in ratings terms: of the three CBS was the one who stood against the rating fall the best, as their ratings were already amazing on the 2011-2012 season, so now their ratings are merely down to earth. ABC hurt quite a bit as they lost a lot of momentum of shows like Once Upon a Time and Revenge, and also failed to find any single breakout hit on their freshmen dramas. But FOX was the one that hit rock bottom; it fell from first to last: the only hit it managed to land was “The Following”. Bones remained a bit steady, New Girl kept them alive on Tuesdays night, while the rest of the comedies struggled to hit mid 1s and Glee didn’t perform nearly as well as previous seasons.

That’s why, this season, each network has adopted new strategies in order to surge from last season. Let’s see how each network is doing and what are their strategies.

CBS: This is, without a doubt, the strongest of the broadcast networks: the season average for their shows is around 2.6 (when you consider unscripted programming), which is 4 tenths below the 3.0 they got in the 2011-2012 season, but considerably higher than the rest of the networks. The network’s highest rated show is The Big Bang Theory; this show averaged 5.25 in the 18-49 demographics, up 6% from the 2011-2012 season, and it is Television’s number 1 show alongside with AMC’s The Walking Dead. The show managed to hit as high as 6.4 and 20 million numbers. And thanks to it, Two and a Half Men was able to perform well, averaging 3.79. Then, Person of Interest follows with a 2.9 and Elementary ends the night with 2.26. Thursdays nights were reigned by CBS the past season, and they plan to keep it that way. However, Thursdays are the only night in which CBS is really at ease, alongside with Wednesday, in which they have Criminal Minds (2.87) and CSI (2.3). The trouble starts with Mondays night:

Mondays: Both HIMYM and 2 Broke Girls suffered big drops from last season, averaging 3.20 and 3.37 respectively. Although they are high ratings, they were hitting 4s in the 2011-2012 season. Along with the drop, freshman “Partners” was unable to deliver as good ratings, even though it was sandwiched between HIMYM and 2 Broke Girls, hence getting canned in middle of the season to be patched up with Rules of Engagement, which did perform better, but not as good as CBS expects from their comedies. Mike & Molly managed to, somehow, stand its feet, but it also suffered from ratings declines, taking down Hawaii Five-0 with it, which now is being shipped to Fridays.

Talking about Fridays, that night used to be owned by CBS with their winner combination of Undercover Boss/ CSI NY /Blue Bloods. However, Blue Bloods and CSI NY lost steam (leading to the cancellation of the later), freshman “Made in Jersey” flopped and only Undercover Boss remained to keep the night alive. Here it is worth noticing that CSI NY averaged 1.41 while Blue Bloods averaged 1.4, so why did Blue Bloods got renewed over CSI NY? To put it simple: syndication. Blue Bloods is a season shy of syndication while CSI NY has already been sold a while ago; besides, Blue Bloods is in a tougher timeslot (10PM) and is a reliable card, as time to time it is able to draw high ratings.

Sunday dramas also got hard hits: The Good Wife kept falling from an already badly rated 3rd season, dropping 18% (from 2.01 to 1.66), while The Mentalist dropped 34% (from 2.61 to 1.72) due to its time period change. Still, both shows are veterans, and The Good Wife is owned by CBS, while The Mentalist probably got reduced licenses fees from WB, so they both got renewed and the losses will probably be made up, in syndication gains for The Good Wife, and in lower costs for The Mentalist.

Tuesdays: Vegas was unable to follow the audience of both NCSI shows, and so happened with Golden Boy, which constantly lost to ABC’s Body of Proof in both demos and viewers. Neither made it to another season, and so the Tuesdays 10PM timeslot continues to hunt CBS; in the 2011-2012 season it was Unforgettable, which is now airing during the summer. CBS hopes to fix this by moving Person of Interest to that timeslot.

The only freshman show that got renewed was Elementary, which wasn’t nearly the hit they were hoping for; the show started with a huge 3.1, but quickly settles in the low 2s. Not even the episode after the Superbowl was able to attract new audience, and so now they hope that putting Two and a Half Men behind it might cause some kind of rating injection.

Network scripted shows averages:
Comedy average: 3.27
Drama average: 2.02
Network average: 2.3

State of the network: dropping, but not too worrisome yet. Though last season is not exactly a good omen for the one to come, it wasn’t really that bad. Most of their shows are dropping, but the ratings are still good (especially in the comedy department). CBS usually spare shows that manage to perform over 80% of the average. So this is what could be expected for next season, should the ratings stay the same (ignoring external factors like syndication, production costs and taxes fees).

Bottom line for renewing a comedy: 2.62
Bottom line for renewing a drama: 1.61

In the end, CBS ratings are still healthy, but they can't afford to fall too much. Their schedule mostly plays it safe by leaving their hits right where they are, moving just some of those hits to patch up failed timeslots. That could work out, but if CBS sees yet another drop next season, they'll have to start searching for new hits, because their actual hits are aging fast.

Part II is out: You can check it out clicking right here

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