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Will DVR numbers really help Dollhouse's renewal prospects?

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April 27th, 2009

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Commenter Richard Steven Hack posed the following question in the comments:

This comment from the article: “A longer shot at returning: “Dollhouse,” which has posted predictably low ratings on Friday. But Fox executives are holding out a glimmer of hope for the show, noting its loyal core and its strong DVR numbers.”

Obviously he talked to the same people Nick C did with regard to Dollhouse.

Should we take it that if Dollhouse is renewed, then Fox at least is indeed paying attention to DVR and other measurements, and that if it is not renewed, that the numbers once again are proven definitive?

The short answer to this question is: yes, if FOX renews Dollhouse, it is obviously paying attention to something besides the ratings measurements we make our predictions based on.  While I wouldn't say that if it's not renewed that the numbers will once again be proven definitive, I would say that if it isn't renewed we will continue to rely heavily on the numbers until we're given a reason not to.

I wanted to address the issue of the DVR viewing though, and it wound up so long I figured I'd just do a separate post.

Time could prove my thinking wrong, and it would definitely be more interesting if it did, but for now, my mind doesn't grapple with "if Dollhouse is renewed" any more effectively than it grappled with "If Lipstick Jungle is renewed..." I mostly see the talk is just that, talk. TV is a sales business, and positive spin/putting lipstick on the ratings (as opposed to quality) pigs seems the rule, rather than the exception. It's just in their DNA.

When it comes to Dollhouse renewal, with my FOX executive hat on, I think the most important components are (in ranked order):

    1. Live/same day DVR viewing (I'd say the C3  commercial viewing ratings, but we don't see that data)
    2. Potential for DVD Sales
    3. Viewing by high income homes
    4. DVR Viewing beyond the same day the show aired
    5. Online viewing

      In the case of Dollhouse, there could be some legitimate noodling over potential DVD sales, but I doubt Dollhouse will be given any special renewal consideration as a result of its DVR viewership. Dollhouse doesn't really have spectacular DVR numbers. It has good DVR numbers, and relative to the overall viewing, a very high percentage of DVR viewers.   It also ranks fairly well  (18th, for the week ending April 5) in terms of 18-49 ratings boost over and above live plus same day DVR ratings we commonly report, once a full week of DVR viewing is factored in.

      Dollhouse is no Lost or House -- and I don't think anyone is expecting it to be -- when it comes to Live+7 adults 18-49 rating versus Live+SD rating.  For the April 3rd episode of Dollhouse,  the full week of DVR viewing boosted its LIVE+SD 18-49 rating from 1.46 to 1.96 (by comparison LOST went from a 4.3 to a 5.25) .  Again, on a ratings point increase basis, that would've ranked 18th for the week.  Not bad at all.  The problem is, even with that boost, when you look at Dollhouse's adults 18-49 ranking for Live+7 viewers, it  was 51st.  Nothing to get really excited about.

      Given the small total audience, the DVR viewing is impressive, but the problem is, it still winds up with a small total audience.  From what i gather, the viewing that occurs on the FOX web site and Hulu is pretty good for online viewing  (I've now heard ranges as wide as 100,000-250,000 per episode) but probably not good enough to make a difference in renewal.

      There is one metric I haven't seen that could play into it, and that's how well Dollhouse does in households with high annual income.  I'm guessing that if it were faring particularly well by that metric, we'd already have heard some TV-speak about it.  But I haven't seen those numbers, and if they're good, it could play a role.  Outside of that, short of very high hopes for DVD sales, I don't see the math that adds up to renewal.

      As for the DVR numbers, if more people were watching the show live or even on DVR the same night,  it might be different.  If the 18-49 rating was being boosted from a 2.0 to a 2.5, or even a 1.6 to a 2.1, the .5 boost might perhaps be enough.  But for this past Friday, assuming DVR viewing held steady, we're looking at a boost from a 1.2 to a 1.7 (or a 1.3 to a 1.8 if it went up to a 1.3 in the final numbers).   So for now, while it makes for a good vehicle for spin,  and looks good on both a % increase and boost to Live+SD rating basis, on an absolute basis it still doesn't look so good.  Even for Fridays.

      Since spin seems such a critically important component of the TV world, spinning the cancellation (and blaming the ratings) seems much easier than spinning the renewal.

       
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