Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Renewology Roundup: What to Expect in Week 2

Hope you have enjoyed the first week of Renewology. The projection-of-future-declines component means that it is most interesting in the very earliest weeks. But these are also the times when we have very, very little to go on in terms of where the network averages will end up. So for this first Renewology Roundup, here are a few thoughts on things to look out for in week two of the numbers. I promise that these columns will be a lot less wonky, and more about the shows themselves, going forward!

Target Practice

A key factor in week two R% changes will be how much the perception of the "bubble" on each network has changed. As I said in the lengthy summary of the process, for premiere week it just assumed each network would decline 5% year-to-year in True (throwing out American Idol from the Fox average). I didn't spend a ton of time on this because they would only be there for a week, but I may come to regret that since it's such an important week. There are differences between the initial projections and the after-week-one projections, and we will definitely see shows whose R% changes are more about these target changes than anything the show did. Here's a quick rundown of the changes from the projected "targets" from week one vs. what will be used in week two. (I'm listing both the actual network average, plus the "Targets" that you will see in the SpotVault, which represent the 50% renewal point.)

ABC: Network Average -0.08 ("Target" -0.06).
CBS: Network Average +0.10 ("Target" +0.07 for dramas, +0.08 for comedies).
NBC: Network Average +0.02 ("Target" +0.02).
Fox: Network Average -0.12 ("Target" -0.09 for dramas, -0.08 for comedies).

So on most networks, our pre-season projections were off of the post-week one projections by close to a tenth of a point. That may not seem like much, but it can make for a 10-plus point swing with the shows in really uncertain territory.

In the first few days of the season, I thought these might be off by even more, but these are close enough that I'm just gonna roll with it for now, rather than re-running all the Week 1 data points with Week 2 targets. I think of the target changes as another piece of "news," just like the show rating itself, and the change in R% is a look at how the entire big picture is evolving.

However, I think it's important to note that can lead to some situations that don't make much sense if you're just looking at the show rating itself. Lower targets mean higher R%. So ABC and Fox shows will have inherent advantages, while CBS and (to a fairly negligible extent) NBC will have inherent disadvantages in week 2 R%. A Bull or MacGyver could hold up well in week two and not make up ground; we already saw this with Kevin Can Wait to some extent on Monday. Meanwhile, a Speechless or Notorious could hold pretty steady in R% even with a rather steep week two decline. So everything will be kinda fighting against those tides. On the other hand, ABC and Fox have a lot of shows that drop big post-premiere, while many of the veteran CBS procedurals hold up very well in subsequent weeks, so in many cases this adjustment might help keep the R% steadier. (Or maybe it's just wishful thinking...)

Hopefully this will be the last week with significant weekly target shifts. We may see a few more multiple-hundredth shifts early in the fall, but it'd be unfortunate if they continue to move by full tenths beyond this point. But anyway, this could be an explanation for some weirdness that you see in week two.

About Second Weeks

Another interesting aspect of week two is that second week drops are particularly noisy. We like to read them as the quickest take on what the audience thinks about the show, but they are misleading a lot more often than you'd think. In fact, among new shows, there is actually a negative correlation (albeit a very weak one) between the week two drop and the week three drop. Many successful shows have taken a fairly steep week two drop and then held up extremely well from there, while plenty of others have held up quite well and then fallen off a cliff in week three (Blood and Oil comes to mind from last season).

Sure, there are shows like The Muppets that drop huge and then keep dropping huge. But statistically speaking, it's at least as likely to be the other way, and the huge drop was somewhat exaggerated. You may see this manifest in the SpotVault in the Collapse/Resilient numbers; these ranges actually don't close up much/at all in week two. Week three seems to be the first time when we actually become notably more confident about where a show will end up.

Preview Perils

The model has had to kick around a lot of out-of-timeslot previews in the opening week (and before the opening week). In terms of the True formula, the results have been really mixed; with Son of Zorn and The Good Place, they dropped a little more than expected in their opening episodes (though I maintain TGP would've been close if the Monday 10:30 episode was counted separately). And Blindspot actually did better in True at 8/7c than it did after the Got Talent finale, which led to a really significant increase in its R%.

A key note about Renewology is that it counts previews as part of the episode order, and timeslot premieres as second episodes. In other words, the first regular timeslot episode is expected to drop as if it were a second episode, rather than a series premiere. That means it is expected to drop a lot less; a huge chunk of shows' post-premiere declines happens from week one to week two. This helps out the R% of things like Son of Zorn, Blindspot, and Thursday's The Good Place; the numbers they put up this week would've graded a lot lower in R% if they were actual series premieres.

But this is deliberate; in fact, looking back on past preview situations, it seems pretty clear that timeslot premieres after a preview hold up better than series premieres. The textbook example of this from last year is The Real O'Neals, which held very close to its timeslot premiere rating for weeks, but even failed shows like Heartbeat and Game of Silence didn't take huge drops from their timeslot premieres. Perhaps Blindspot, The Good Place and Son of Zorn will collapse, and we will look ridiculous to have been so optimistic. But I want to point out that there's at least some foundation for the thinking here!

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