HBO’s Strategy with "Treme: Make "The Pacific’s" Ratings Look Better?

Categories: Cable TV

Written By

April 27th, 2010

This is really a post about HBO's Treme, but since so much money was spent making The Pacific, I'm going to drive down that road first.

With 2.55 million viewers and a 0.9 rating with adults 18-49, HBO’s The Pacific hardly looks like a ratings champion. Especially when you consider its estimated costs of anywhere from $200 million to $250 million depending on what you read.  Yep, I know it goes way up when HBO counts all the multiple viewing, DVR viewing, On Demand viewing, etc.

But to its credit, after starting off small, after 7 episodes it has retained a good chunk of where it premiered.

I already covered why it was unreasonable to compare The Pacific’s ratings to Band Of Brothers before it even premiered.  Still.  Every. Single. Time. I. Write. About. The. Pacific’s. Ratings. Every. One. Of. Those. Reasons. Gets. Beaten. Like. A. Dead. Horse. In. The. Comments.

Will The Pacific be a money maker for HBO over the course of its life?  Who knows?  My guess is that unless we get jobs with Time Warner’s accounting division we’ll never have a reasonable means of figuring it out.  But when I think $250 million, I don’t get very jazzed about the numbers it's pulling.  Not even when you add all the additional viewing back in.  Will DVD/Blu-Ray, syndication and international licensing make it a big money maker?  Your guess is as good as mine.

So what about Treme?

Update: And OK, sure, Treme was already renewed by HBO for a second season just a couple of days after its premiere.

Treme premiered on April 11 to 1.125 million viewers and a 0.4 rating with adults 18-49 for its 10pm telecast.  On April 18 it dropped to .777 million viewers and a 0.3 rating with adults 18-49.   On Sunday, April 25 it was up slightly to .809 million viewers and again had a 0.3 rating with adults 18-49.   What can we glean from these ratings when it comes to Treme's renewal prospects?   A whole lot of nothing much.

I've learned that excepting the rare case of obvious hits, it's folly to attempt to predict renewal outcomes for cable shows based on ratings.  Even more folly when it comes to premium networks like HBO where they're not selling advertising and happy subscribers matter much more.

If I had to guess, I'd guess this: if Treme is a critical darling, it will be renewed and if it isn't, it won't be.  Update: And OK,  I'll say it again, sure, Treme was already renewed by HBO for a second season just a couple of days after its premiere.  Think of this as a retrospective for why HBO would renew a show with ratings like Treme's.

These days, a mega-hit, the mega-hit for HBO is True Blood.  In its second season, it pulled really good adults 18-49 ratings in its initial telecasts, which looked great when you consider HBO is available in less than one-third of the homes in the U.S.   But True Blood's ratings weren't in the realm of the heyday of  The Sopranos.

But, in the heyday of  The Sopranos, there was no On-Demand and relatively few people had DVRs.  DVRs are now in around one-third of the homes in the U.S. and I'd imagine DVRs are in well over one-third of the homes with HBO.

As ratings go, I'd say it's reasonable to make the case that ratings-wise True Blood is to The Sopranos as Treme is to The Wire.  And not just because both Treme and The Wire were both created by David Simon and share some actors.   The Wire never had great numbers, but it had lots of love from the critics as well as the literati and digerati, and it got five seasons.  Treme will get at least two.

The early indications in Metacritic (which are likely completely based on the premiere episode) are very good and it has "universal acclaim" status.

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