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 appear to be gone for Empire, the hopes for a relatively graceful decline phase may still be alive. What may be more likely to shorten Empire's life is that it'll become Disney-owned after the Fox studio acquisition goes through.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

SeasYearSlotAvgy2yLoHiResultsGrade
1Winter 2015Wednesday 9:005.093.86.9detail
22015-164.42-13%3.26.7detailB+
32016-172.75-38%1.94.2detailD+
42017-18Wednesday 8:001.83-33%1.62.4detailC+

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

SeasYearA18-49+LabelNow18y2yLoHiPremiereFinale
1Winter 2015303megahit3.32226410226410
22015-16303megahit3.32+0%220460460281
32016-17224megahit2.46-26%155343343204
42017-18167big hit1.83-26%145222222153

AVERAGE:249megahit
CAREER:998tentpole


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

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