Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How I Cover Series Premiere Ratings

I generally don't write much about how other people cover TV news and ratings because 1) I don't care that much and 2) at least in the realm of ratings, it's fairly tough to be so egregiously wrong that it's worth mentioning. But the coverage of series premiere ratings has become a bit of a pet peeve of mine, and it perked up again today when people started calling Work It "not an instant flop" and "not a complete bust." I think those labels suggest a fundamental mistake in the way many if not most people cover series premieres.

Here's the deal: we have years of data (and I'm sure people who've been around longer have many more years beyond those) consistently indicating that the median week two drop for a scripted show is about 15%, maybe a little worse in a horrific development year like 2010-11. So I think the smart way to approach a series premiere is to just go ahead and build that drop in (if not a little more because there's typically more drop beyond week two) when evaluating the "level" of the show. Instead, most members of the media treat the series premiere rating as if it's the level and evaluate where that level would fit in for the network. Then it's big news when the show drops in week two and we have to completely re-evaluate. It just feels like building in some of that predicted drop is the more responsible way to grade a premiere.

My other big disagreement from this season was when people called the series premieres of Unforgettable (2.9) and Person of Interest (3.1) "solid." I went with "decent" and "OK" instead. Both settled around 15% below those numbers in subsequent weeks. I guess you can argue the media got the last laugh since both got the back nine, but I still have a tough time believing CBS considers either of those shows particularly "solid." I think "decent" and "OK" are better descriptors for where they are right now. They're both the second-weakest weeknight shows for CBS in their respective hours of the evening (ahead of only the Sunday duo).

Building in a 15-20% drop for Work It, you have a 1.6 or 1.7, which is about where Man Up! stabilized if not a little lower. Could be a fairly conservative estimate considering it's the worst-reviewed scripted series in over four years. But even if that's what it is, most of us would agree Man Up! was a flop, so I feel fine going to that well on series premiere night.

And if it doesn't drop anywhere near that much? I think that is the news. It would be more about week two than it is about week one establishing the level. So let's call it a flop now and be surprised if it defies the usual math, rather than calling it "not a flop" now and pretending to be surprised when it takes the drop and "becomes" a flop.

1 comment:

Spot said...

Very very well said!!! I completely agree

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