How TV Network Execs Make Decisions

Categories: Nielsen Broadcast TV Show Ratings Adults 18-49

Written By

April 11th, 2008

Rodin’s The ThinkerBill and I are constantly trying to figure out how the television executives make decisions about renewing or cancelling shows and scheduling.  It's fun for us.  Yeah, I know, we're kind of quirky.  Bill and I started looking at what most normal people probably would consider a fairly obscure data point:  what % of a show's viewers are in the 18-49 age demographic.  It turns out, or at least my hypothesis is that it does, that this little obscure data point is in fact meaningful to network executives.  At least some of them, specifically at FOX and NBC.

Bill did a post on the top 20 shows with the highest % of 18-49 viewership.  It's a very interesting list, containing several shows that I often see the mainstream media wonder aloud about why they haven't been cancelled.  Shows of that ilk ranking in that list are the FOX animations American Dad (#4), King of the Hill (#6), 30 Rock (#10) and My Name is Earl (#16). I'm repurposing Bill's table below:

Highest % of Season to Date Viewers between age 18-49

Adults 18-49 STD Rank

Programs

Network

STD Adults 18-49 Live+SD (000)

STD Viewers Live+SD (000)

Viewers STD Rank

% of viewers between 18-49

 

SCRUBS

NBC

3,881 5,668

 

68.5%

 

OFFICE

NBC

4,598 6,884

 

66.8%

 

Family Guy

FOX

5,290 8,045

 

65.8%

 

American Dad

FOX

4,225 6,595

 

64.1%

 

Simpsons

FOX

5,050 8,057

 

62.7%

 

KING OF THE HILL

FOX

4,271 6,837

 

62.5%

8

HELL'S KITCHEN

FOX

7,158 11,849

 

60.4%

 

Kitchen Nightmares

FOX

3,571 5,912

 

60.4%

9

HEROES

NBC

6,958 11,575

 

60.1%

 

30 ROCK

NBC

3,681 6,131

 

60.0%

 

Simpsons - SUN 7:30p

FOX

3,475 5,828

 

59.6%

 

AMERICAN GLADIATORS

NBC

5,321 9,557

 

55.7%

6

MOMENT OF TRUTH

FOX

7,799 14,177

12

55.0%

 

PRISON BREAK

FOX

4,117 7,536

 

54.6%

 

Biggest Loser 4

NBC

4,280 7,839

 

54.6%

 

MY NAME IS EARL

NBC

3,762 6,891

 

54.6%

 

HERE COME THE NEWLYWEDS

ABC

4,237 7,875

 

53.8%

12

LOST

ABC

6,376 11,884

 

53.7%

 

BIG SHOTS

ABC

3,807 7,129

 

53.4%

 

TERMINATOR: SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES

FOX

5,189 9,755

 

53.2%

Other interesting tidbits when looking at it this way - one of the favorite questions on our site is "Why the #!@ was Prison Break already renewed while Summer Glau and The Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles still sits on the bubble?   Although I'm fairly sure the % of viewers 18-49 isn't the only factor, it is worth noting that although TSCC has a higher overall average 18-49 viewership than Prison Break, sans the one huge lead in from the NFL playoff game for its first episode and that lead narrows.  TSCC also achieved its average in fewer episodes (an easier task).  And there's this: Prison Break is #14 on Bill's list, whereas TSCC as at #20.  I'm still hopeful Summer and Sarah "will be back", and hopefully combined with other factors, sitting at #20 on this list will take it off the bubble.

Bill's new top 20 is a hard list for any show with real scale (lots of total viewers) to make.  This makes the achievement of Moment of Truth (#13) all the more impressive.  Moment was one of only four shows  on that list with total viewership averaging more than 10 million viewers, joining Hell's Kitchen (#7, though for only one episode), Heroes (#9), and LOST (#18).  Gordon Ramsay and FOX also hold the #8 slot with Kitchen Nightmares, though it didn't even average 6 million viewers overall.  Scrubs didn't average 6 million overall viewers either, and it's #1 on this list. 

While Scrubs is ending its run on NBC this May and will not be back on the Peacock net next year, it's reportedly been picked up by ABC.  Some mainstream media wonder why ABC would do that.  Even NBC honcho Ben Silverman slung mud at ABC over this, insinuating that ABC has such an awful track record at developing new comedies that if as a result of picking up Scrubs "..they can go 1-for-21, good for them."  The show is produced by ABC Studios so it's not a big shock I guess,, and my bet is ABC knew it ranked at the top of the highest % 18-49 list well before we did.

Again, I don't think this is by any means the only data point factoring in, or even a crucial data point at all for many shows, but, for other shows it is a lot more crucial. I imagine a similarly themed 18-34 list would be interesting too.  Sadly, we do not have that data. 

We got a comment asking why NBC's Medium would only air in the winter 2009 portion of NBC's schedule rather than Fall 2008 as well.  I can't help but think it's positioning in the 18-49 demographic, both overall and as a percentage was a factor, because otherwise Medium has a very stable viewership, and more viewers than several shows NBC is running in both the fall and winter.

You can check out Bill's original post here.

Nielsen TV Ratings Data: ©2008 Nielsen Media Research, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 
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