Monday, October 22, 2018

Renewology Week 4: ABC Comedies, CBS Dramas, and The League Average

Here's a look at the big Renewology developments in week four.

The ABC Comedy Mess
Splitting Up Together68%0.800.710.63135%33%
Single Parents68%0.790.710.63434%37%
Fresh Off the Boat57%0.670.660.63325%43%
The Kids Are Alright51%0.900.630.63128%36%

The ABC comedy bubble got a lot messier in week four with the addition of what look like a bunch of marginal comedies on Tuesday, followed by easily the best Friday showings yet for Fresh Off the Boat and (to a lesser extent) Speechless. We'll have to see if FotB and Speechless will sustain the levels they're at right now, but if they do, we're talking about R% for the above comedies that adds up to 3.5 renewals. That's not too far from how I see it personally; I sort of expect Black-ish to pull ahead a little bit, with Splitting Up and Single Parents ultimately duking it out for a spot, while it's too early to say anything about The Kids Are Alright and maybe one of the Friday shows sneaks through. So I might be a little closer to 3 total renewals than 4, but the total R% may come down as well if the Friday shows come back to earth.

We'll look more at The Rookie in the near future, but suffice to say its premiere put it in the A Million Little Things category; it wasn't great, but it's good enough to be an early modest favorite on a network with so little drama strength (and strength in general).

The CBS Drama Mess
Criminal Minds78%0.750.800.68321%38%
SEAL Team67%0.700.740.68320%45%
Magnum P.I.66%0.790.730.68419%45%
God Friended Me57%0.760.700.68316%45%
Madam Secretary53%0.660.690.68213%38%

Last week, I said it was worth giving more episodes to all of the new dramas, and CBS has done just that. I'm old enough to remember when Limitless was supposedly a 100% lock because it got 22 episodes and Code Black was 0% because it got 18, so I wouldn't read too much into Magnum and God Friended Me reportedly getting slightly shorter orders ("about seven"). It does indicate that FBI is in the lead for now, which you can also see from the ratings. But the margin is not that huge, and there's a lot of time for things to develop, so I don't think we need to go throwing around 100% and 0% guarantees just yet.

The other point I want to make is that this drama mess serves as a nice illustration of an important point about this model: just because each show is over 50% does not mean we are predicting everything will get renewed. It is more instructive to add up all of the R%, and doing that with the 14 CBS dramas adds up to 11.1 total renewals. Like with the ABC comedies, this doesn't seem too unreasonable; I'd say it makes sense that one or two of the newbies and one or two of the returnees will get the axe. Beyond that, all these shows are very similarly rated, and a model this dependent on ratings is incapable of "taking a stand" on identically-rated shows the way we pundits can. As I've said in the past, a lot of those "stands" based on non-ratings reasons turn out to not warrant the confidence that people place in them, so I think it is a useful service to know that there are a lot of CBS dramas floating around at pretty similar ratings strength. Maybe the next six months will bring some clarity, but it's not inconceivable we could be right back in a spot like this at season's end, with nine shows around 67%ish and six of them getting renewed. This would lead to three "misses" by the traditional "win/loss record" metric, but I would say the model did pretty much what it was supposed to do with the available info. Your mileage can vary.

A Brief Look Inside the League Average

I don't think I ever actually wrote about this anywhere other than the Climate Center fine print, so I just wanted to point out a change in how the league average projection works this year. The projection now looks at how the league average declined in the previous two years rather than just the previous one. This means we're combining one year when the LA collapsed quite a bit late in the season (2016-17) and one when it held up extremely well late in the season (2017-18), and hoping the reality will be somewhere in the middle of those two. I personally think this is a reasonable guess; 2016-17 had no American Idol in the second half of the season, and a bunch of fall 2016 debate preemptions held the league average higher than it should have been early in the year. 2017-18 had a bunch of winter successes, the return of American Idol and a huge jolt from Roseanne late in the season, producing a very healthy period from January through April of 2018.

Currently, this has the effect of making the league average projection a good bit lower than it would be if we were just comparing with 2017-18. If we were doing it the old way and took 12% (the current y2y decline) off of the 1.10 average from last year, we would have a 0.96 projection right now. But since that is counterbalanced with the collapse scenario from 2016-17, which would lead to a 0.88-0.89, we get the 0.92 as of week 3 (and it seems very likely to stay there in week 4).

The other effect is that this will (hopefully!) prevent things from moving as much later in the season. Last year, the projection kept expecting the 2016-17 collapse scenario and instead got the very healthy period, taking the LA projection from 1.03 on Christmas Eve to 1.10 by mid-April. This year, the projection is built to absorb some of what is expected to be a much uglier January-April period. The current y2y decline rate is -12%, but the 0.92 projection is suggesting that y2y decline will end up at -16%. Maybe it'll get even worse than that, and the LA projection will keep declining, but it won't be nearly as much of a move as if we were projecting a 0.96 right now. Of course, it's always possible it holds up very well again, in which case it will perform worse. But I think combining the two is a sounder strategy, no matter what happens in the end.

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