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Ratings Analysis - ABC Sundays

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Hey everyone.

As announced last week when I did my introductory post about ratings and renewals/cancellation decisions, I will be writing some articles about ratings on the broadcast networks. I am not sure yet on what structure I will follow or what type of content I will be covering (more general analysis?, deconstruction of common misconceptions?, predictions for show’s fates?) so, please, shoot away in the comments with suggestions/ topics you would like me to talk about! For the time being and until I can decide on a more permanent structure after hearing you out and figuring it out myself, I will be looking at the state of some of the broadcasters and I will be analyzing some specific issues/topics that are most commonly debated.

Today, I've decided to handle one of the topics that often bugs me the most which are ABC Sundays.

Once a glorious day for dramas, Sundays are now a major struggle for ABC, and for broadcasters in general (excluding obviously when sports are on and excluding also, for the most part, FOX cartoons). I think this has to do with two main factors:
1) The rising cable competition on the night, in addition to all the existent sports competition I believe a lot of people simply go to cable at this night to get their drama fix, as it has somehow became the new paradigm that there’s where you can find the best dramas. Even if you exclude The Walking Dead, the combined ratings of Homeland, Boardwalk Empire and Drop Dead Diva were a 2.2 for this past Sunday, which is higher than the ratings something like Revenge or The Good Wife have been getting this season. And this, as I’ve said, is not even counting Sports or The Walking Dead; if you include these, the CBS and ABC dramas are looking at something close to 20.0 (!!) as competition. Regardless of how you look at it, that’s not a good picture, period.

2) The uneven schedule, with major events often taking over the night (either on the channel or as competition).

Bearing in mind these arguments, I would like to tackle one of the most common ratings myths I've seen floating around which is the notion that OUAT and Revenge had creative slumps in their sophomore seasons which led to their drastic ratings decline that we observe today. I want to say that I do not believe that at all and I think people have to severely ignore data to rationally back this up. Let’s look at the facts.

Ratings Last Year:
OUAT: 3.9, 3.4, 3.0, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 2.7, 3.1, 3.1, 3.1, 2.8, 2.4, 2.2, 2.4, 2.2, 2.3, 2.3, 2.2, 2.1, 2.0, 2.2, 2.3
Revenge: 3.2, 2.6, 2.6, 2.8, 2.7, 2.7, 2.5, 2.2, 2.4, 2.4, 2.0, 1.7, 1.4, 1.8, 2.0, 1.8, 1.8, 1.5, 1.7, 1.8, 1.7, 1.7

What can we see from here?
• Excluding its premiere, Revenge never left the 2.2-2.8 range during its first 10 episodes. Moreover, there was no declining trend whatsoever, the ratings were stable within that range, going up or down as weeks went by.
• Excluding its premiere, OUAT never left the 2.7-3.5 range during its first 8 episodes or, if you exclude the very random drop at episode 7, it never left the 3.0-3.5 range, which I believe to be a more representative range. As Revenge, it had no declining trend at all.
• Then, on the 13th of January, facing the Golden Globes, Revenge fell 0.4 (17%) to a new low. The same day, OUAT fell 0.3 (10%).
• The week after, facing the NFL, Revenge fell 0.3 (15%) to yet another new low, whereas OUAT would give in 0.4 (14%), also to a new low.
• Another week, the shows now face the Grammy Awards and Revenge falls another 0.3 (18%) whereas OUAT slips by 0.2 (8%).
• Overall, across these three weeks, Revenge fell by one full point (42%!!!!) and OUAT by almost one full point, 0.9 (29%!). Compared to their previous 2.2-2.8 and 3.0-3.5 ranges, respectively for Revenge and OUAT, the shows fell 36% and 27% from the bottom end of these ranges and 44% and 32% from the median of these ranges, respectively!

Now, why is this data more than enough evidence for me to believe that it was the scheduling and not the quality of the seasons that killed both shows? Two main arguments here:
• The fact that we are talking about both shows immediately suggests a scheduling problem. Even if both shows had quality issues, it would be extremely unlikely that the entire audience would decide to realize so and to bail across the same 3 episodes whereas the audience was stable in all previous episodes. It is naive to believe that viewers from both shows would decide to bail on both shows on the same nights at the same time.

• The fact that both shows were, as I’ve showed, very stable for the most part in their 10 fall episodes, with no declining trend whatsoever that would suggest a subsequent drop, and that they’ve fallen exactly when facing these major events. It would be one thing to see a slow but steady declining trend for both shows that would be intensified during these days, but that’s not what data suggests. If you honestly believe that it just so happened that it was in these 3 specific weeks that people decided that the quality was not there anymore and that they were going to bail, then that’s your prerogative but you have to admit that would be one hell of a coincidence for such an unprecedented decline on the space of 3 weeks.

So, am I saying that quality played no role at all? No, I am not. I certainly believe that both shows would have recovered slightly better if people were happier with the direction of the seasons. That’s not say that it would be realistic, at all, to expect a recovery to the early fall numbers, which means a large portion of the damage would always be permanent regardless of that quality! People can claim that a show like Desperate Housewives, which would face similar drops when airings against these events, would recover much better. While that’s true, I think there are two considerations to have here: 1) Neither OUAT nor Revenge were the type of mega player that DH was, so it would be ludicrous for ABC to expect the same type of behavior – networks should deal with what they have, not what they wish to have. 2) DH was far less serialized than OUAT or Revenge are and this matters a lot. It’s the same reason why a show like Castle can always have a low point in December airing out of a ridiculously low rated lead-in and come back to its normal level the next episode. Serialized shows cannot do that, and certainly cannot do that if the damage is inflicted for 3 straight weeks giving people no chance to catch up on one missed episode.

Bottom line: even though better received seasons would probably have helped a bit in the last half of the season in the recovery, all the data that we have suggest that said recovery wouldn’t have been necessary to begin with had the shows avoided awards season altogether. It was scheduling, not quality, that killed the shows in their sophomore seasons.

Is there a solution moving forward? I believe there are solutions to contain the damage, not to revert it. For a long time now, I've argued that Sundays are not a place for broadcasters to put their dramas, especially if they are serialized. My previous point about people seeking cable for their drama fix explains this and, if nothing else, the current ratings of the ABC and CBS Sunday dramas also illustrate that. What to do then?
1) Regarding the shows themselves, I would ship them both of Sundays, especially Revenge. I think ABC would be better served with a Grey's/Scandal/Revenge block and a Shield/OUAT/Resurrection block come midseason than the upcoming arrangements of Killer Women/Grey's/Scandal and Shield/Comedies/Mind Games for those nights, not to mention that it would ensure that the shows have a fighting chance of going beyond their 4th seasons.

2) Regarding Sundays, I would move reality to this night, effective immediately. Long term, I think they should aim to have DWTS on this night. The show should not face the voice. As seen in the few times in which they don't go head to head, its ratings are severely impacted by the arrival of the voice, which means it is not serving ABC the best where it is. However, because the show is tired and because there are scheduling conflicts with the judges due to the UK version, I would make it a spring show and have the bachelor airing on the fall. For the winter, I would stick with reality filler programming since there is no point in going against the awards season anyway. Reality, and female skewing reality nonetheless, is, in my opinion, the best counter-programming against everything else that is going on at this night, especially all the male heavy and drama heavy stuff. However, this would be my long term plan. Right now, at midseason (or even next season) ABC doesn't have the capacity to mess with DWTS and their solid albeit unspectacular Monday nights. So what I would so would be simply to give up on Sundays for the year and fill it with reality programming in the veins of The Taste, The Quest and Wipeout. Excluding the 8pm hour occupied by OUAT, I doubt the low 1s these shows would pull would be massively different from the numbers Revenge and Resurrection would be pulling on the slots by then, so there's real no downside there, especially when you take into account the cost differential.

This really is a no brainer move for me, but ABC has turned into the network that is mostly affected by inertia in the last years. They seem incapable of making moves that do not involve plugging existent holes on the schedule and I think that's what they will do midseason, simply replacing the 3 failed new dramas with the 3 midseason replacements, which will then be likely to fail as well. That's for sure not what I would do and it certainly is no long term solution but it seems that it will take ABC longer than it takes all of us to figure that out.

Thanks for reading!

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