Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Top 10 TV Ratings Moments of 2014, 5 to 1

It's time for my fifth annual look back at the year's top 10 moments in TV ratings! As always, the criteria are pretty subjective, but I go for a blend of 1) relatively isolated incidents that are impressive for their sheer enormity/cultural impact and 2) moments that exemplify much larger trends in TV this year. The headlines link back to writings on these moments at the time they happened. Enjoy, please let me know about my most egregious rankings/omissions, and check out the first post from yesterday. Happy New Year!

Here are the previous years:
2010: 10 to 6 | 5 to 1
2011: 10 to 6 | 5 to 1
2012: 10 to 6 | 5 to 1
2013: 10 to 6 | 5 to 1

5. The Walking Dead Does It Again (October 12)
Kinda like the Super Bowl, The Walking Dead is a victim of its own success from a "moment" standpoint. It's left all other entertainment series so far behind in the dust that there's not a lot of storyline intrigue; there are no fair comparisons left. But at these numbers, even a 6% year-to-year growth (to an 8.65 rating) is a new level of unprecedented hugeness, likely over five times the big four's original average. I said at the time that this could finally be the last TWD high note before the waning begins, but the second half of the fall season was actually up much more year-to-year than the first half. So stay tuned...

4. Crossovers Fuel Opening Sunday Surges (September 28)
Most of the biggest surprises of a new TV season come from new series, since there's no track record from which to create an expectation. But on Premiere Sunday, it was a bunch of veterans that stole the show. On this night, Fox's animated series were most stunning, including a The Simpsons crossover that vaulted the Family Guy premiere's ratings (4.6) by an absurd seventy-seven percent year-to-year. But the introduction of Frozen characters on ABC's Once Upon a Time (3.5, up 35% year-to-year) was just about as eye-popping and ultimately a far bigger deal over the long term. That series remained on the year-to-year upside until the end of the fall.

3. The Following is the First Limited Series Fumble (January 27)
The biggest new hit of the 2012-13 season returned in January 2014 at series high levels after the NFC Championship game, but it returned to its regular timeslot just a week later at a new series low 2.0 and dropped another 30% by the second half of the season. It was a legitimate surprise, but it ranks so highly here because it proved to be the start of 2014's most unfortunate ratings trends. First, the "limited series" that had been the hot thing in 2013 all had huge sophomore slumps, returning at or very near new lows and quickly going way below. And second, there was the general demise of the Fox network. The Following's struggles came alongside another huge drop for American Idol, and then came a fall schedule laden with bombs like Utopia, Gracepoint and Mulaney.

2. The Flash Starts Very Fast (October 7)
The CW has been making a gradual return to 18-49 ratings respectability over the last few years, and it finally got its truly signature moment with this fall's premiere of The Flash. At a 1.9 rating, The Flash was easily the biggest historical-adjusted episode in network history, and DC Comics wants me to inform you that it beat that night's episode of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD on ABC. Great as that moment was, The Flash also had the legs to become a true game-changer for the CDub; it's settled at only about 20% below that premiere number, and a crossover a couple months later sparked fellow DC series Arrow to a new high.

1. A Three-Hour Shonda Rhimes Empire is Born (September 25)
At #1, it's the genesis of 2014's biggest triumph in entertainment programming, a trio of ABC Thursday dramas that obliterated almost all entertainment competitors in their paths. It's wild that Scandal (3.8) hit a new series high yet was probably just the third-biggest win in this block. Grey's Anatomy (3.1) moved almost seamlessly to 8/7c and became a gigantic improvement in a historically incompetent hour for ABC, while 10/9c newbie How to Get Away with Murder (3.8) matched the huge Scandal demo, grew noticeably in total viewers, and has stayed very close to Scandal's ratings over the course of the fall. It's not impossible that these could end up being the top three dramas on all of broadcast by season's end.


Spot said...

No big changes I would make. I might say Millers should be here, but it isn't really a ratings thing, but more a renew/cancel thing. Though I am a little tired of seeing Walking Dead pop up so high again. It only increased slightly and we all expect the show to be the biggest thing on TV, so why bring it up in the top five again? Bah, whatever. It's only a nitpick. Oh, and happy New Year to everyone at SpottedRatings.

Spot said...

I definitely agree for making ABC Thursdays number one ahead of The Flash. The debate between whether Murder or Flash for biggest freshman show is one thing, but on the relative whole ABC Thursdays are a bigger deal than CW Tuesdays since Supernatural hasn't popped with a much stronger lead-in. ABC wisely remembered how honing all of its promotional energy on Desperate Housewives and Lost for the 2004-2005 paid dividends and did it again for TGIT.

For the whole 2014-2015 season, I do think that Grey's Anatomy is making the argument for being the biggest win on broadcast television. Even with a move to arguably ABC's biggest problem spot historically, the veteran drama did not miss a beat in the Fall by dropping its typical 13-ish% in its 11th (!) season instead of seeing a massive decline. And there's not much reason to think the trend will change in the back-half: it gets to benefit from the pairing with Scandal all season instead of failed Black Box, and the lack of an Oh-bounce at the tail end of season 10 means y2y trends get an assist in April/May. Meanwhile, the show should remain resilient against the competition it's used to (TBBT, American Idol/Bones); NBC's The Slap is the wildcard but given that it's a miniseries and they are more invested in the later hours it's the lowest-priority drama for them on the night.

Spot said...

I don't live in the US, but TGIT block is very enticing. The block, particularly of Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder, always makes me want to watch both in a row. Even on occasions where one of the two disappointed during a particular week, the other will compensate and I'm fine again going into the next week watching the two again. In fact, the promo makes me want to Grey's too!

Spot said...

Woohoo! My "Limited Series = Limited Shelf Life" prediction is up there! (Albeit with a much more clever title that includes reference to its football exposure)

Spot said...

They moved 2 veteran dramas seemlessly and launched the biggest newbie, and shore up a timeslot that hadn't had any longterm success in what, decades? It was really good scheduling! And this is ABC scheduling dramas here!

Spot said...

The Flash was a truely amazing premiere number, I believe only behind the newly found massive Enterprise premiere. I still consider it more or as impressive of Enterprise though because Enterprise had followed several other successful Star Trek series and was during a time Star Trek was really culturally in high demand. The last live action incarnation of the Flash was in 1990.

Spot said...

I'd argue Ugly Betty dodged the Thursday 8:00 Curse. Yes it was a 4-year flameout, ABC launched a new show in that hour to slightly-above-league-average ratings and it stuck around for multiple seasons. It was definitely longer-term compared to ABC's previous efforts.

Spot said...

I gave TGIT an honorable mention in my list, dropped it to put Millers but a cancelation isn't exactly a ratings event, otherwise, the same choices

TGIT is a great example for good scheduling, all compatible, all made for you to spend the whole night on the same network, the potential Must See TV of this decade results are there, one hit show at its 11th season despite moving to a historically bad timeslot, the highest rated drama on network TV and the #1 freshman show.

Spot said...

With The Walking Dead and the Super Bowl, I put some value on what I call "sheer enormity." There are just some milestones that are so historically/culturally huge that I put them on my list even if there's not much surprise or change or industry impact. I just can't imagine making a top 10 ratings moments list and not including the most-watched event in the history of the medium. Clearly, mileage seems to vary on that whole philosophy, but that's what makes it fun!

Spot said...

The other three that I was considering for the last spot:
- Utopia's DOA Tuesday premiere (September 9)
- Goldbergs/Black-ish premieres on Premiere Wednesday (September 24)
- Game of Thrones premiere (April 6)

Honestly, I had forgotten just how much GoT was up year-to-year. For some reason I thought it got like low 3's in 2013 and was only up in the 10-20% range. If I'd remembered the premiere was up 51% I could see bumping out the Nielsen Glitch for it. (Though it wasn't exactly a huge shocker and doesn't have Walking Dead-sized enormity, so it'd still probably be only 9 or 10ish.)

I did think about The Millers briefly but as others have mentioned, that wasn't particularly momentous ratings-wise. The real surprise was the cancellation announcement. But I still think it may have snuck in if I'd done a top 15 or 20.

Spot said...

Great list Spot. I would change some placements and I would remove the Super Bowl but for the most part I think this is it I would probably do it like this:
1. TGIT is born
2. ABC Sundays is resurrected albeit temporarily (I have this one up this high for shock value alone mostly, but I also believe there is something to be said about it showing that it's still possible for networks to do really well on Sundays
3. The Flash's opening night
4. Premiere Sunday with Elsa boosting OUAT to series high levels in PLUS
5. The Following collapses and brings down the entire concept of limited series along with it, as well as the beginning of the end for the FOX network
6. How I Met Your Mother's finale ratings explode
7. The Walking Dead does it again!
8. The Millers is pulled from the scheduled in the middle of the fall
9. Premiere Monday, with Scorpion and Gotham leaving a powerful mark right away
10. The Nielsen Glitch

Honorable mention: The Goldbergs' turnaround (not included because I find it hard to associate it with one specific night, it felt like a very gradual thing), DWTS rebounds both in the spring season and in the fall season (though I also have trouble pinpointing this to one particular night)

Also, I wanted a particular moment to illustrate how far FOX had fallen but I couldn't find any so I went with your strategy of using the following for both purposes, which was very smart of you to do.

Spot said...

Utopia's DOA Tuesday premiere is a good one to illustrate FOX's collapse which I wanted on my list but I also feel that, at that point, most of us had already grasped that FOX was in for big troubles (though I hadn't realized to which extent, as my predictions show).

I didn't find ABC's premiere Wednesday to be that big of a moment. Blackish premiere okay but so did most of the comedies that ABC has tried there, it was its subsequent hold that made it special. As for The Goldbergs, I agree more but I also feel that was something that had built up over the summer, it wasn't exactly all that surprising. But I wouldn't disagree with its inclusion because it is still the best datapoint to illustrate the rise of the goldbergs which is something I wanted to have on my list but couldn't find a way to include.

Spot said...

I agree on both accounts, especially about GA. I think it can be seen as the biggest win of the year if it keeps this up until the year's end.

Spot said...

I pretty much agree with this list, but I kinda wish Game of Thrones or Black-ish's premiere would have made the list instead of the Super Bowl.

Spot said...

The only thing that I can think of that you might have forgotten is the World Cup, which did very well.

Its ratings peak was ESPN's 5.1 in A18-49 for the US-Portugal match on a Sunday but arguably the more impressive result was ESPN's 4.6 in A18-49 at 3pm on a Tuesday afternoon for USA-Belgium. And that excludes Univision's numbers. who got 2.8 in A18-49 for USA-Portugal match and 1.9 for the USA-Belgium game. It's not the NFL or the BCS Championship game, but a 7.9 cumulative A18-49 rating for a soccer game in the US is still pretty impressive.

I do wonder whether the World Cup was quietly a major contributor towards ABC having such a good season.

Spot said...

My top five 2014 ratings events/trends would be:
1. Nielsen Glitch: this undermined the credibility of the entire ratings system and focused attention on not only the fallibility of monopoly A.C. Nielsen.but also ratcheted up network dialogue about and dissatisfaction over the shortcomings of the entire ratings data collection methodology across multiple platforms.

2. Drama rules and comedy drools: The continued failure of most new network sitcoms to resonate with viewers which includes NBC's spectacular fall from comedy grace and the shocking cancellation of The Millers by CBS.

3. ABC's TGIT: Bold and risky sometimes pays off big and ABC hit the jackpot here for an entire night of cohesive programming that plays to the network's strength in serialized dramas with strong female appeal.

4. Cable's decline: Per Cynthia Littleton, Managing Editor of Variety in a November 4th article: "Virtually all of cable’s top entertainment outlets have suffered double-digit ratings declines so far this year — drops that are particularly pronounced in the C3 ratings (live broadcast, plus three days of playback on DVR after the original airing) that are the currency... the most established players — think USA Network, SyFy, TNT, TBS, A&E, Lifetime, MTV, Discovery, FX, AMC, ABC Family, among others — are starting to grapple with the issues of
audience erosion, rising programming costs and heightened competition
for ad dollars that have bedeviled the Big Four broadcast nets for more
than 20 years."

5. The Twitterization of Network Programming; What arguably began in 2013, came into it's own during 2014 as the networks really started to capitalize on social media, specifically Twitter, creating, managing and directing live Twitter "events" encouraging "live" television watching while tweeting along with the show stars. Even NBC president, Greenblatt, acknowledged how important Twitter had become to live ratings when he said he was even looking forward to the phenomenon of "hate" tweeting for Peter Pan Live because it meant even the haters would be watching live.

Runner-up 5a. Pigskin Prominence: CBS' foray into primetime football (TNF) just underscores how creatively bankrupt the networks have become by devoting another entire primetime night to NFL. The prevalence of those late Sunday afternoon game overruns on CBS and FOX practically became as predictable as regularly scheduled programming, artificially lifting both networks' Sunday primetime programming ratings.

Runner-up 5b: Resurrection's debut in the Spring signaled a turnaround for ABC once football and the Olympics ended on competing networks. ABC won the Spring ratings race and is arguably the most improved network this Fall with the wind in its key demo sails. Even more significant without football.

Runner-up 5c: The collapse of FOX--'nuf said.other than utopian ratings have really eluded the network..

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