Thursday, May 31, 2018

The War of 18-49, Empire

The Gigahit Years

'The next Empire' is a phrase that has become part of the TV ratings lexicon, referring to shows that exhibit multiple weeks of post-premiere growth. But most shows that get that label do so as kind of a joke, stuff like People Icons that is starting from a really small base. Empire was not just a growth story; it was a breakout on premiere night. Its January 7, 2015 premiere averaged 9.9 million viewers and a 3.8 demo (226 Plus), remarkably building on its lead-in from American Idol (3.4). Even with a much more conventional post-premiere trajectory, Empire could've been hugely successful from that starting point.

But that's not what happened. Empire became that once-in-a-generation show that both started at megahit levels (which only happens about 1-2 times per season) and grew from its series premiere rating (which also only happens about 1-2 times per season). And it was an almost weekly occurrence: 4.0 in week two. 4.4 in week three. After its only hiccup in week four, back up to 4.6 in week five. Then 4.8, 5.2, 5.4, 5.8, 5.8. By the time the 5.8's rolled around, it was more than doubling its lead-in from American Idol! And the season one finale, which started at a special time, provided one last uptick: a 6.1 at 8/7c followed by a 6.9 (410 Plus) for the last episode at 9/8c. At the end of the season, this two-and-a-half month whirlwind would ultimately grade out as the biggest broadcast drama of the A18-49+ era with a 303 average.

Season two also averaged a 303, but went about it very differently. Empire came back after over six months off to a 6.7 demo (a series high 460 Plus), and pretty much headed downward from there. It held onto the fives for a couple weeks, the fours for the rest of the fall (except for an unfortunate 3.2 on Thanksgiving Eve) and the upper 3's for most of the spring.

The Decline Begins

Empire was so huge in its opening seasons that it could be a productive player even after multiple seasons of substantial decline... and that's pretty much what has happened. Season three opened on a 4.2 and went through the mid-3's, low-3's and high 2's during the fall. The second half of the season was mostly low-2's and got as low as a 1.9. But even with a 38% year-to-year decline, including a 26% decline in Plus, it still comfortably cleared the megahit threshold.

Season four finally saw a move to 8/7c, where it led into fellow Lee Daniels drama Star, and it began with a similar rate of decline if not even worse; it was south of 2.0 by the second week of the season. But this season seemed to hold onto its viewers a lot better than the previous two; it stayed in the high-1's the whole rest of the way. That -33% listed below for season four was actually a -40% for the fall and a -24% for the spring. So while the megahit days were done for Empire, the hopes for a relatively graceful decline phase were still alive.

It had another round of relative stability in the fall of 2018, leading to the show's smallest drops since season two, but the bleeding sped right back up in the spring.

Final Season on Tuesday

And that led to a drastically weakened final season as a bit of a scheduling afterthought, placed on Tuesday after The Resident. It began its spring 2020 run with a couple low-0.6's and was promising to be an even bigger disaster, but some possible help from COVID-19 viewership inflations brought it back up to a 0.7 level for most of the spring.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

1Winter 2015Wednesday 9:
42017-18Wednesday 8:001.83-33%1.62.4detailC+
62019-20Tuesday 9:000.73-46%0.61.0detailD

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

1Winter 2015303megahit2.48226410226410
42017-18167big hit1.37-25%145222222153


The War of 18-49 chronicles the ratings history of veteran primetime series. For more, see the Index.

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