Why We Don't Do Renew & Cancel Predictions For Cable Shows

Categories: 2-Featured,Cancel/Renew Index,TV Ratings Reference

Written By

November 5th, 2012

Given the volume of "Why isn't there a Renew/Cancel Index for cable shows?" and "Why doesn't the cancellation bear chase cable shows?" questions, I figured I'd get something in a post that I could refer to in the future.

Our method of predicting the renewal and cancellation of broadcast primetime shows compares the relative adults 18-49 ratings of each show to the scripted show average for that show's network, and the shows with lower relative ratings get canceled, the shows with higher relative ratings get renewed. Make a few tweaks for syndication reasons and we're good about 95% of the time.

Why couldn't we just do the same thing for cable shows?

Two ways to think about the biggest reason (there are other reasons too).

  • Cable networks behave differently, because they can.
  • Broadcast networks are constrained by the scarcity of time in their primetime schedules.

Broadcast networks fill every Sunday-Friday primetime hour with something original, cable does not.

Broadcast networks have to cancel existing shows to make room for new shows. That makes predicting what they’ll do much more systematic.

Cable networks do not have to cancel existing original shows to add new ones, because even the ones that produce lots of original shows still have primetime hours in which to add new ones. (arguably, USA is just starting to bump into a ceiling)

Our prediction methods are based on broadcast networks canceling their lower rated shows to make room for new ones every season.

Cable networks simply don’t behave that way, because they don't have to.

And as long as cable networks don't have to behave systematically, the bear will stay away from predicting the fate of their shows!

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    sadly, nothing has changed in the year+ since this:


    though I snagged “TheCancelClown” twitter handle just in case!

  • steve

    Man Bear Pig

  • Chris

    It’s REALLY hard to predict cable shows. We can’t even be sure “Hunted” will be canceled, even though by the time this season is over, its audience on Cinemax could all be seated at a major sports stadium–with seats left over.

  • Miguel

  • Elaine

    All I want is a 4th season of Haven… and 5th and 6th…

  • Dennis


    hunted will probably be renewed because its also airing on the bbc in the uk and is winning its timeslot every week. Also the bbc and cinemax are in renewal talks as we speak and hunted has hired some new writers, so a cancellation would actually be a big shock..

  • cas127


    Still lobbying for the “Cancellation Line Simplicity Plan” –

    1) Take given cable network’s median 18-49 and/or P2+ ratings for past year (pretty sure you guys have been able to get this data for last couple of years).

    2) Compare to season-to-date 18-49 and/or P2+ average ratings for each original cable show on each cable network.

    3) Shows falling below last year’s median get placed on “at risk” list.

    This would broadly recapitulate what the cancellation bear does (gobble up the bottom 40-45% of a broadcast network’s shows).

    It isn’t a perfect parallel, since it looks to *last year’s* network median ratings but it would be *a lot* easier than continuously recalculating a weekly median for each of the dozens of cable networks.

    I appreciate the “forced curve” dynamic of the fully programmed broadcast networks…something old *has to* get tossed for something new to be put in place.

    But…I think the real underlying dynamic at almost every network anywhere is to obtain ratings as close as possible to last year’s (or better).

    That is the bottom line financial imperative that ensures that people keep their jobs.

    Now, of course, annual audience erosion (to some degree) is likely a given – even for cablers (hello, internet).

    But last year’s median ratings (perhaps minus some small “erosion discount”) seems like a simple metric to set up and use.

    In terms of driving site pageviews, I suppose it comes back to the relative popularity of individual shows – maybe “cancellation line” analyses wouldn’t have to be published continuously for entire cable network schedules…perhaps just those established shows tracking downward (and/or crossing the median line) would merit a post.

    Obviously a fair amount of work for an uncertain (pageview) result…and a lot depends on how much cable ratings data you have access to.

    Anyway, just my virtual $.02 (equivalent of 5 to 20 page views?).

    (Btw, obviously the “median line” method would be wholly irrelevant for premium channels – HBO, and the like, who are largely weekly ratings immune – but for whom I might suggest the “Cancellation Bare” analysis – when the number of topless shots fall below an established median, then a show is doomed, doomed!)

  • Honey Badger

    Your answer to “Why isn’t there a Renew/Cancel Index for cable shows?” and “Why doesn’t the Cancellation Bear chase cable shows?” questions.”

    The whole thing sounds very confusing to my simple mind.

    I have two Reponses

    1. quote from the movie Reality Bites:
    “I was told there would be no math.”

    2. To quote Homer Simpson:
    “Uh huh. Uh huh. Okay. Um, can you repeat the part of the stuff where you said all about the…things? Uh… the things? “

  • john

    I’m sorry but this has become unBEARable!

  • Alex

    In addition to the points made in the article, cable networks also have a much lower threshold for success. For BBC America or Syfy, for example, 1 million viewers is considered a success and grounds for renewal; similar ratings on mainstream nets would have the bear chowing down before the closing credits of the first episode.

    It’s one of the reasons why a common – and not misplaced – argument made when a popular show is cancelled is why it wasn’t made for cable in the first place. Firefly, for example, would never have gotten the boot after a dozen episodes if it was airing on Syfy. Last Resort would probably already be planning out season 2.

    Not saying being on cable is a magic shield. I can name at least three shows – Deadwood, Dead Like Me and Farscape – that were considered sure things, yet were cancelled unexpectedly and suddenly.

  • scifi

    Cable networks cancel shows when shows become unsustainable (low ratings). Thatswhy you still can predict savely which ones will be canceled and which ones survive. Maybe with more % of mistake, but still!

    So you have just excuses.

  • Heradite

    Another reason the Cancellation Bear doesn’t follow cable shows: there’s too many cable networks and too many shows.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    @Heradite, that’s certainly one of the other reasons. Effort vs. return.

    @scifi, if you’re so confident in the ability to predict, you should start your own site!

    “In addition to the points made in the article, cable networks also have a much lower threshold for success”

    Nah, that’s no impediment. The CW threshold is as low or lower than many cable nets.

  • Honey Badger

    Why isn’t there a Renew/Cancel Index for cable shows?” and “Why doesn’t the Cancellation Bear chase cable shows?” questions.”

    This whole cable TV shows thing sounds very confusing to my simple mind, and not worth bothering with.

    I will let Homer Simpson speak for me
    To quote Homer Simpson:
    “Uh huh. Uh huh. Okay. Um, can you repeat the part of the stuff where you said all about the…things? Uh… the things?

    “If something is to hard to do, then it’s not worth doing. You just stick that guitar in the closet next to your shortwave radio, your karate outfit and your unicycle and we’ll go inside and watch TV. “–Homer Simpson”

    “It’s not easy to juggle a pregnant wife and a troubled child, but somehow I managed to fit in eight hours of TV a day.” –Homer Simpson

    “When will I learn? The answer to life’s problems aren’t at the bottom of a bottle, they’re on TV! “–Homer Simpson

  • omabin

    Well I bet there is at least one prediction you guys don’t mind making… I will give you hint: it concerns the walking dead’s renewal chances! ahah

  • Joseph

    The Cancellation Bear has enough work chasing down and devouring low-rated network shows to even bother with cable shows!

    Something tells me the next five or so weeks will be a very, very busy time for him.

  • Stuart Pitt

    Question: What about local affiliates and do they enter the equation somewhere? Cable networks don’t have that concern.

  • John A

    I wouldnt be that confident about Hunted. Its getting like 3.5 million which isnt that great for BBC. Winning its timeslot means nothing just like in the US.

  • Bookworm

    I always figured it was because his fat a** couldn’t run that far.

    Guess I was wrong!

  • bsp

    Cable is where almost all of my TV drama favorites are aired, mostly on USA, but also on Syfy, TNT and FX. There’s no better example of the difference between cable and broadcast than Southland, which was short-lived on NBC but has found a home on TNT. I’m thankful for original cable programming, because my broadcast viewing history is littered with the corpses of good dramas that didn’t connect immediately and were canceled. Makes it almost pointless to start watching a new broadcast drama, because its chances of success are so slim.

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