Friday, April 6, 2012

A18-49+: Why We Gotta Put a Label On It?

In last week's intro to the A18-49+, my stab at a reasonably fair historical ratings measure, I promised I would illuminate lots of cool stuff about the TV industry. Sadly, that all starts next week, because we have to do a little more housekeeping before we can really get going. In this post, I'm going to try to create a frame of reference that we can use going forward to get some kind of grip on what exactly these numbers mean. Since these numbers are "fair" across a span of many years, that means the standards for commonly-used labels like "hit" and "flop" (things constantly in flux over the years using raw numbers) should remain about the same. A lot of this stuff is super subjective, but hopefully some of it will be a little interesting!

What's a "Hit"?

I had a tough time coming up with a way to really quantify the word "hit." I decided to start by leaning on the worst intro in public speaking history: Webster's Dictionary defines "hit" in the entertainment sense as "a great success." Unfortunately, Webster doesn't say what a "great success" is compared to the league average adults 18-49 rating, so we're kind of on our own. All I can really say is that a "great success" is probably not a league-average show. In decision-making terms, it's not something that barely gets renewed, and it's probably even beyond "solidly gets renewed." It's a reliable scheduling tentpole, usually left in a timeslot to anchor an evening and often used as a lead-in to new product.

With all that said, it's still pretty subjective. The best way I think I can do this is to look at all the A18-49+ numbers on a continuum and see where the cutline "feels" like it should be. So I put all the numbers on the 2010-11 Index if you're interested in digging deeper, but here's the chunk where I think we're hitting about the cutline for "hit" in the 2010-11 season:


Name Lo Avg Hi y2y Results GradeA18-49+
How I Met Your Mother2.53.393.9-4%detailB134
NCIS: Los Angeles2.83.383.9-4%detail133
Mike and Molly2.33.364.0n/adetail133
The Amazing Race Fall2.63.323.8-2%detailB131
Survivor Spring3.13.284.0-16%detailB-129
The Bachelor Spring2.73.264.7-20%detailC128
The Simpsons2.33.215.7-7%detailB127
America's Got Talent Wed2.53.174.1+4%A-125
Undercover Boss2.03.054.0-33%detail120
Hawaii Five-
The Mentalist2.42.913.4-14%detail115

You can look at the 2010-11 Index if you want, but to me this is really everything that's possibly debatable as a "hit." To me (and again, very subjective), the place where I start thinking nothing above the line is a clear "non-hit" (perhaps excepting timeslot-boosted Mike and Molly) and nothing below the line is a clear "hit" is right around The Simpsons or Got Talent. Shows like Five-0, Bones, CSI and The Mentalist were all quite solid, but not quite clear "hits."

I don't have the full 2011-12 numbers posted because these numbers are not "official" yet; they're still changing because the season is ongoing. But here's what I consider the borderline for this season:


Name Lo Avg Hi y2y Results GradeA18-49+
NCIS: Los Angeles2.43.183.7-6%detail135
Dancing with the Stars Tue Fall2.63.064.1-19%detail130
Family Guy2.43.034.4-15%detail128
Dancing with the Stars Mon Spring2.62.983.5-36%detailD126
Rules of Engagement2.12.913.7+1%detail123
The Amazing Race Fall2.72.883.3-13%detailC122
Person of Interest2.42.873.4n/adetail122
The Simpsons1.92.875.4-11%detail121
Hawaii Five-02.32.863.4-6%detail121
Survivor Spring2.32.833.2-14%detailC-120
The Office2.12.773.9-26%detail117
Desperate Housewives1.82.743.2-21%detailD+116
Happy Endings1.72.713.5+56%detail115

Same general range of A18-49+ numbers, from about 115 to about 135. Again, I think this is the range where the shows are genuinely debatable. In the first edition of this post, I said I'd put the borderline again right around where The Simpsons is, but it did so poorly in the spring that I'm OK not calling it a hit. I think that gap between 126 and 123 looks pretty appropriate. I still think of Family Guy and Glee and DWTS as hits, at least for one more year.

I could do more seasons, but I think those have kinda faded from memory, so it's a little tougher to apply the ol' "gut feel." But you get the idea. I'm gonna go ahead and say the "hit" borderline is about 125. Let the debate begin, or whatever.

Degrees of "Hit"

You might think my definition of "hit" is a bit conservative. It means there are about two dozen hits on the big four each year, or about one per network per weeknight. Either way, I think it can be broken down further. Even within my realm of "hit" or "great success," there can be a "big hit"/"greater success" and a "biggest hit"/"greatest success."

I put "big hit" at starting around a 150. If you look back at the 2010-11 Index, that means the big hits of that season on broadcast were Sunday Night Football, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, The Voice, Two and a Half Men, Modern Family, Glee, Grey's Anatomy, The Big Bang Theory and NCIS. Seems reasonable.

I also think there should be a "megahit" level for the shows that really define the primetime landscape of the year. I choose 200 for that level because it's a nice round number, and you can almost always count the number of shows that exceed this mark on one hand. In the 2010-11 season, it would just include football and Idol.

Why no huge tables to determine these levels? Because the "big hits" and "megahits" are largely what I'll be talking about next post (and beyond), and I don't want to spoil it all just yet! But again, feel free to check out the 2010-11 spectrum.

What's a "Flop"?

The problem with objectively defining the word "hit" is that it's tough to tie to decision-making. Even "comfortably gets renewed" seems too conservative. But I think "virtually zero chance to get renewed under normal circumstances" is a fairly appropriate definition of the word "flop." That too may be a tad conservative, but not too much.

So if a "flop" is something that can't get renewed, the best way to come up with a borderline is to look at the lowest-rated shows that can get renewed. I always like to use new scripted shows as "normal circumstance" situations, because they're generally too early in their life cycles to be hugely impacted by extreme costs or syndication motivations. This is the percentage of new weeknight scripted shows that got axed from 2006-07 through 2011-12 at each level:

A18-49+ Cancelled Total %Cancelled
0-49 17 17 100%
50-59 24 25 96%
60-69 27 28 96%
70-79 17 30 57%
80-89 15 21 71%
90-99 5 18 28%
100-109 4 10 40%
110-119 2 8 25%
120+ 0 6 0%

Breaking it down by those ten-point ranges, there's a clear range where renewal becomes much more viable. Only two shows out of 70 that scored below a 70 A18-49+ got renewed. But from 70-89, that renewal chance jumps from 3% to more like 35-40%.

For another reference, here's the weakest big four newbie renewal each season in A18-49+:

Smallest Weeknight Renewal
Season A18-49+ Show
2007-08 75 Eli Stone (ABC)
2008-09 59 Better Off Ted (ABC)
2009-10 79 Community (NBC)
2010-11 70 Happy Endings (ABC)
2011-12 79 Up All Night (NBC)

The only three shows to get renewed sub-75 were Ted and last year's Happy Endings and Harry's Law, and I would argue all three of those renewals were to some degree face-saving measures on the heels of their networks' terrible development seasons. (They were also midseason shows, which lowers expectations somewhat.) The point is it's reasonably possible, if below 50/50, to get renewed at around 75. But it becomes much less likely under normal circumstances going down into the low 70s. Still, I'll give Happy and Harry a pass and say everything that scores below 70 is a "flop." Might be another conservative estimate, but we'll go with it for now.

There are also degrees of flop, but the "megaflops" are tough to quantify from an 18-49+ standpoint because they often get pulled without getting a chance to drop a long way. I mean, Work It was pulled after two episodes but it has a "not-flop" 72 A18-49+ right now! That surely would've gotten lower with each additional episode, but said episodes were not to be.

The Whole Spectrum

I'm going to throw in one more cut at the 100 mark because there's such a big difference between 70 and 124. So here are the sweeping distinctions I'm going with for now, unless anyone has a compelling argument otherwise:

0-69: Flop
70-99: Marginal
100-124: Solid ("Success")
125-149: Hit ("Great Success")
150-199: Big Hit ("Greater Success")
200+: Megahit ("Greatest Success")

Next week, with these labels in place, I use the A18-49+ to chronicle some of the big genre/category shifts in the last few years! It's more exciting than it sounds, I promise! (I probably shouldn't promise that.)

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