Friday, August 1, 2014

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

A key reason that A18-49+ "works" to whatever extent it does is that many fundamentals of the environment have remained constant. In the 35-week regular season, the big four networks have consistently devoted about 60-65% of their primetime real estate to original series. Within that original series category, a reliable 60%ish of it is scripted and about 40% unscripted. There's a lot of talk about needing to cut down on repeats, but it's not really happened on the regular season stage. Because it's a robust sample size and a relatively apples-to-apples environment over the last decade-plus, the league average decline seems to be a reasonably solid representation of the "true" collective decline.

The summer is a different story. It was once a wasteland of repeats, but repeats are declining in value, and the networks are responding here in a meaningful way. There was a double-digit increase in original volume in summer 2013, and summer 2014 is heading in that direction again. When renewal time comes, these originals aren't necessarily getting compared against other originals; they're just hoping for noticeable improvement on repeats.

This drastic uptick in volume makes it a bit tougher to devise A18-49+ labels for summer programs. It's a shifting environment where the definition of "average" is becoming deflated. So I went back to some of the original definitions I used in devising the labels. Here's a quick look at that process and the new labels that result.

The Shifting Summer

Summer Orig
Real Estate Repeats LeAv % of Regular LeAv
2011 450.5 38% 56% 2.05 81%
2012 401.5 32% 50% 1.59 67%
2013 478 38% 50% 1.46 69%
2014* 352.5 45% 45% 1.21 64%

*- thru 7/27/14

This table compares summers 2011-13, going from the first day after the regular season through two weeks before the next regular season (which is when the fall premieres often start). Another particularly important factor here is the 2012 Summer Olympics, which have a far greater impact than the winter ones in the regular season. (They're higher-rated, the environment is lower-rated, and they're a larger percentage of the real estate in the short summer season.) The Olympics probably exaggerated the 2012 league average decline as well as the 2012 drop-off in real estate. Additionally, The Voice airing deep into the summer in 2011 and 2013 had a big effect. But these are just more reasons why a summer average is less reliable.

Despite the wonkiness, it's clear this is not a regular season-esque situation, where the original volume is within a tight five percentage points every year. The networks are drastically adding to their original volume, to the point that there are now as many originals as repeats during the summer. And as I said earlier, much of this programming is not shooting for "average summer ratings"; it's shooting for "noticeably better than repeats." So the summer audience using the "league average" definition is declining much faster than in the regular season, even though the drops are not as drastic when counting everything. The robust 35-week league average decline (-11% in 2013-14) seems better than this very noisy 16-week one (-18% so far this summer), and I think 11% is more representative when looking at how veteran returning series are trending. Comparing stuff like America's Got Talent with the summer league average would suggest an explosion that seems kinda exaggerated to me.

However, that leaves us in a pickle when coming up with A18-49+ labels for the summer. Neither 2011's 81% or 2014's 64% is really all that representative of an "average" summer series, so there's not some obvious percentage to start from with this method.

Tying It to Renewals

So I decided to look at this from the angle used when first coming up with the definition of "flop." In 2012, I decided a flop was something that would almost never get renewed "under normal circumstances." I broke down new series in ten-point A18-49+ intervals and found there was a major drop-off in renewal percentage from the 60's to the 70's. Shows from 70-89 had about a 35-40% chance to get renewed, and more like a 3% chance south of 70. Hence: 70 became the line between flop and not flop.

There aren't really enough new series in the summer for this to work as well, and I only have three full summers in my records anyway. So I threw in returning shows in as well. Here's a look at the marginal to sub-marginal shows on weeknights from summer 2011 thru 2013. Red = cancel, green = renew!

Once again, there's a clear spot where the renewals go from fairly frequent to almost 0%: right around 50. Most of the series renewed right at 50 are super-cheap shows like Rookie Blue, and the only sub-50 renewal* was a show that seems to have a Rookie Blue-esque arrangement (last year's Motive at 44). Using the same method as for the regular season, 50 seems like the best marker. 50 = "marginal for summer."

*- Most of this was written before last night's renewal of Undateable (48), which would be another sub-50 renewal, and this time of a show originally intended for the regular season. Maybe this show is a sign that the standard is ever-softening and this should be revisited, or maybe it just had a highly irregular situation (airing over half its order either vs. the NBA Finals or on the Fourth of July weekend). The surprise for me with this show is not really the lack of merit. I said after it was done airing that, "Purely on merit, I would not totally count this show out." I'm just surprised that NBC would put half the episodes in that kind of situation if they were giving it a serious chance. But there you go. If there are a lot more sub-50 renewals, we may re-evaluate this down the line. 

If 50 is the line between marginal and flop, that implies the "league average," or the line between solid and marginal, should be about 70. (50 * 100 / 70 = 71.4, and I'll take the nearest round number.) And as with the regular season, the solid line happens to be about where renewal percentage becomes much more favorable. A few shows have been cancelled well into the 60's, but nothing I could find got axed north of 70. (I may be forgetting something, though!) 70 = "solid for summer."

Starting from the 70 average baseline and using the previously established definitions:
70 * 1.25 = 87.5. Round to 90 = "hit for summer."
70 * 1.5 = 105 = "big hit for summer."
70 * 2 = 140 = "megahit for summer."

These labels aren't on the War of 18-49 pages yet, but they will start appearing when War updates for summer series begin next week. Here's a quick look at how some of the staples have trended using these labels. Most of these "feel" pretty right to me, but your mileage may vary:

America's Got Talent - Since the first few seasons, it's consistently been a "big hit for summer." One would think that if anything should be a "megahit for summer," it'd be this series. But it's never quite made it, getting as high as 136 in 2011 (when it largely aired alongside season one of The Voice).

Side note: As with Friday and the CW, I don't really have a problem with the "megahit" label being extremely rare. As a rule, I don't feel that comfortable calling a show a "megahit" by some lowered standards. A megahit should be a "real" megahit, you know? And the shows that may have achieved this (I'm thinking about stuff like Survivor, American Idol and The Voice) all got upgraded to the regular season.

Big Brother - It was "solid" for the first several available seasons, then got as high as a "big hit" following three straight years of growth from 2009-11. After a hiccup against the Olympics in 2012, it was right on the "big hit" borderline in 2013 and is on pace to get there on all three nights this year.

Hell's Kitchen - Most of the middle of its run was "big hit for summer," but it's dropped to "hit" and then "solid" the last two seasons.

The Bachelorette - Was "solid" for the first two years after its resurrection in 2008, jumped to "big hit" in its breakout 2010 season, and has since settled in "hit" territory.

So You Think You Can Dance - A "hit" from seasons 2-5 (2006-09), has journeyed through "solid" territory over the last four years (2010-13) and may actually drop to marginal this year. We'll see just how marginal when Fox decides on its fate.

MasterChef - Like most of these shows, it started at "solid." It vaulted to borderline "big hit" in 2012 and then an actual "big hit" in 2013. It looks to be regressing to "hit" this year.

Scripted notables - Season one of Under the Dome (127) was squarely in the middle of big hit territory. 24: Live Another Day (93) will eke out a hit for summer label, but that's largely due to the double 2.6 premiere (which technically didn't even air in the summer). The Night Shift (72) qualified as "solid." It probably wouldn't do that without a Got Talent lead-in, but it still seemed like a relatively routine renewal for NBC.


Spot said...

Hell's Kitchen makes for an interesting case, though. Some shows like The Bachelorette or 24: Live Another Day had a brief in-season run (though in the case of the latter it looks like it's enough to make a difference for labeling). But for the past two years, Hell's had its run split between the regular and summer season. Do you just give the whole season the "easier" go of it and use summer labels? Going Solomon's baby on the show and have two different shows for what episodes fell in the regular/summer feels like slightly more work...

This definitely changes the perspective on a show like Wipeout because now the show has an actual trajectory (2 years each as Hit, Solid, and Marginal).

As for Undateable, I think NBC was projecting that it was going to pull Welcome to Sweden / Working the Engels numbers to start with and descend from there. Instead, it was a show that was a tick away from averaging Community's numbers in a worse situation.

Spot said...

My gut says to put something like Hell's under the summer labels, but I'm not sure where the cut-off should be. I would tend to say it's a summer show if half the season airs in the summer, but the recent Hell's seasons cut it very close with that rule (this season aired 10/20 hours in summer, last season only 10/22).

The one that's really messy is the 2008 Hell's Kitchen season (142), which would be a "megahit for summer," and actually aired more than half of the season in the summer. Yet it only got to that ratings territory because of the Idol lead-in it had in the regular season. I guess I will have to figure all of this out before the Hell's update next week......

Spot said...

If it suddenly stopped airing now, what would the summer plus be for Under the Dome?

Spot said...

92 right now. Probably will end up in the mid- to high-80's.

Spot said...

Just a question on the 1-and-done ABC reality shows that I think were all close to making it:

What were the Plus scores of:
2013 Whodunnit
2012 Glass House
2011 Expedition Impossible


Spot said...

Expedition Impossible: 61
The Glass House: 37
Whodunnit?: 53

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