I was responding to a comment ragging on how paltry the numbers were for this week's Mad Men, and how much the numbers were spun in Mad Men's renewal press release, and even compared the performance to the CW!
My response twas starting to get a little long, so I figured I might as well just do a post.
Perhaps I am just beaten down by all the press releases at this point, but spinning numbers seems more de rigeur than extreme to me. Many of the cable networks commonly use Live+7 numbers where available, and AMC didn't invent the notion of combining the numbers from multiple broadcasts of the same episode on one night.
1.608 million for the third episode of season three is bigger than 1.255 million for the third episode of season two.
I'm a big believer in making relative comparisons, and when it comes to Mad Men I either remember past seasons numbers or can look them up when I don't. Though the numbers for the 10pm episode on Sunday were down again, and way down from the premiere, they are still up vs. the third episode last year by 28%. If those numbers last year were good enough to renew it, these are better.
You can't compare AMC to a broadcast network. Not even the CW.
Comparing a small cable channel that seems 80% made up of old movies to a broadcast network (even a tiny one like the CW) seems inappropriate. Mad Men at 10p on Sunday with 1.608M was AMC's most-watched program of the week. The .6 rating with adults 18-49 seems tiny, but AMC is a network with tiny ratings. That .6 is 50% greater than the .4 rating the network averaged in prime time last week.
Is it worth it for AMC?
Obviously AMC thinks it is since it just renewed it for a fourth season. Whether AMC is right or wrong is something we can only speculate on.
Sadly, we'll never know what sort of premiums Mad Men makes from advertising to few, but very wealthy viewers, and how much revenue that adds up to, or what the show's profitability is.
But from AMC's perspective if not for Mad Men (and to a lesser extent, the critically acclaimed Breaking Bad) AMC wouldn't get any attention at all.
DVD sales might not be through the roof, but let's not forget CARRIAGE FEES
Through 5 weeks of release, the season two DVD sales for Mad Men were estimated at $6.35 million. Ok, it's definitely no True Blood, but at least so far this year, neither is any other show released on DVD. No show has come close to True Blood so far, 24 was the closest and it isn't close. True Blood has done more than 2.5 times as much in sales. On a guess, DVD sales offset only a small portion of the show's costs, which are estimated to run at around $2 million per episode.
But in the world of cable, attention is important and so having a lot of attention for Mad Men is good, even if it doesn't always turn into viewers.
In 2008, AMC was estimated to receive $.23/mo/subscriber. Nielsen estimates as of last October had AMC in ~94.3 million homes. That's around $21.7 million a month or around $260 million a year in revenue from cable and satellite subscribers.
If Mad Men helps justify the carriage fees, or better still, helps the fees inch up, that's good news for AMC. Even a $.03 (three cents!) increase per month would yield an additional $33.8 million per year, more than enough to cover the estimated costs of making Mad Men.
So my guess is, that yes, Mad Men is definitely worth it for AMC.
Update: as noted in the comments and by others more observant than I who caught it, Lionsgate, which produces Mad Men gets the DVD revenues, not AMC. Lionsgate also pays the full cost of episode production, though it's probably fair to assume that AMC absorbs ~75 percent to 80 percent of that cost through its licensing fees.