Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A18-49+: What's a "Hit for CW"?

Last week, I looked at creating a new A18-49+ label to identify a "hit" by the lower standards of Friday night TV ratings. Today, the same thing for the CW!

The "hit for Friday" label had one major advantage: Friday ratings have not depreciated significantly over the seven seasons in the A18-49+ archives. For the first few years of this period, it looked like they were, but they bottomed out in 2009-10, and this will almost certainly mark a third straight season of relative growth (likely to the highest level since 2006-07) for Friday originals. Everything from 2006-13 is within a pretty close range, so the historical comparisons are relatively apples-to-apples.

The CW has had a couple up years, but for the most part the trajectory has headed in one direction, and they're in a very different place compared to the big four than at the beginning of their existence.

2006-07 41
2007-08 36
2008-09 39
2009-10 39
2010-11 37
2011-12 29
2012-13 30

Many things have impacted the CW's averages over the years. They dropped their extremely low-rated Sunday nights, which certainly helped, and they dropped Friday Night Smackdown!, which certainly hurt. (That's just a comment on what those things did to the ratings averages, not on the financial/scheduling wisdom.) But the big game-changer season was 2011-12, a year in which they 1) lost Smallville, 2) saw America's Next Top Model implode and 3) had bad development. They've rallied a tiny bit this year with Arrow, but a return to the upper-30's seems like a real uphill battle.

This downward spiral makes it difficult to compare the 40 A18-49+ CW of the late aughts with the 30 A18-49+ CW of today in one simple label. If we just based a "hit" label on the CW of today: 30 * 1.25 (the "hit" threshold used in the normal A18-49+ labels) = 37.5, which is actually below the network's average in three of the above years!

If we based it on the late aughts CW: 40 * 1.25 = 50. Today's The Vampire Diaries (61) still clears this threshold easily. Arrow (51) makes the cut too, but not so easily. Supernatural (41) is a long way away.

37.5 is far too low, because it probably shouldn't be below the network's average at some point during the period. 50 is too high, simply because I'm pretty sure Arrow shouldn't be such a close call.

Since I like using multiples of five, you can probably see where I'm going with this. The average of those seven years above is a 36. 36 * 1.25 = 45, a number that the two "hits for CW" still clear today but that is still well above the average of the early CDub years. 45 = "hit for CW."

What are the "hits for CW" by the 45 standard? I'm probably forgetting something, but here are the ones I got:

Year A18-49+
America's Next Top Model 06-07 67 / 67
Gilmore Girls 06-07 52
Smallville 06-07 51
Beauty and the Geek 06-07 49
America's Next Top Model 07-08 72 / 59
Smallville 07-08 52
America's Next Top Model 08-09 66 / 59
Smallville 08-09 54
Gossip Girl 08-09 47
One Tree Hill 08-09 48
90210 08-09 47
Supernatural 08-09 45
America's Next Top Model 09-10 54 / 54
The Vampire Diaries 09-10 61
America's Next Top Model 10-11 52 / 39
The Vampire Diaries 10-11 57
The Vampire Diaries 11-12 55
The Vampire Diaries 12-13 61
Arrow 12-13 51

Sticking with the "multiple of five" approach and meeting in the middle of the CW's recent history, I'll go with 35 for "solid for CW." This means only the two hits, The Vampire Diaries and Arrow, plus Supernatural (41) qualify this year. Three solid shows on a ten-hour network might seem rather harsh, but...the network's roster beyond its top three shows is rather harsh. I don't see any of the shows beyond Supernatural as "solid."

Unlike with Friday, there is some value in a "marginal" label, because there are many more sub-solid renewals on the CDub than on Friday nights. The cutoff between "flop" and "marginal" in the normal labels is 70% of the league average. 70% of the CW's 35 or 36 league average gets us right around the 25 mark. 25 = "marginal for CW."

Historically, the CW has cancelled and renewed many shows above 25, so the 25-35 range truly fits the "marginal" definition. And they've renewed very few shows below it. Everybody Hates Chris got one more season after averaging a 22 in the last year that the network went "all out" on Sunday. Gossip Girl had a 25 last year and got a short final season. And it seems likely they will make one or more sub-25 renewal this year, as they have several bubble shows in that vicinity: Hart of Dixie (25), The Carrie Diaries (24) and 90210 (20), plus Friday's Nikita (17). But just because they're on this year's extremely weak CW bubble doesn't mean they're marginal historically speaking.

A couple final labels that I'm breezing through in a purely objective sense:

1.25 (hit threshold) * 35% ("solid for CW") * 55% ("solid for Friday") = 24, rounded to 25 = "Hit for CW for Friday"
35% ("solid for CW") * 55% ("solid for Friday") = 19, rounded to 20 = "Solid for CW for Friday"

These might seem like very low bars, because the CW has been much stronger on Friday compared to the rest of the sked than other networks, first with Friday Night Smackdown! (39/42) and later with Smallville (36/42) and Supernatural (39/31). They cleared that hit threshold by a wide margin when on Friday. But I'd rather use the big four standard as a bar for Friday rather than one network that has overachieved. And it seems fairly unlikely the CW will return to those 30+ levels on the night any time soon, considering they're having huge trouble pulling that off on the normal nights. 

Nikita would've barely graded out as "solid" last season (21) and got renewed, and it is sub-solid this year (17). America's Next Top Model managed a 23 on Friday, "solid" but sub-hit, and it scored a renewal. So I think they paint a pretty decent picture, and if that means we have to consider all those 30+ shows "big hits for CW for Friday" or maybe even "megahits for CW for Friday" at the 40+ level, so be it. They probably were when using adults 18-49 (if not in the female demos).

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