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!

  • AppleStinx

    Handlers of the ‘Cancellation Bear’ have gone green. They spend the least amount of energy possible while keeping the bear sated. :grin: Good answer! Good answer!

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “Question: What about local affiliates and do they enter the equation somewhere?”

    They’re not relevant to the best of our ability to notice.

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

    Do not let the fact that there’s “a lot of bear to love” lead you to believe he is not fleet of foot. Ask Made In Jersey. Two episodes ::gulp::.

  • RC

    You could try to make a test-run R/C Index for just USA, TNT and FX.

    Three major cable channels, with original, scripted programming. I think the ‘last years’ median viewership / rating’ equation as explained earlier on could predict the fate of some shows. Or not. But we won’t know that until after the trial-and-error phase.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “You could try to make a test-run R/C Index for just USA, TNT and FX.”

    Robert chided me for the futility of posting this. Correctly, in retrospect.

    It doesn’t matter what we calculate for cable shows, since cable networks are not compelled to cancel their low rated shows.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    @Bill: I did not chide you! I probably would’ve titled the post “Why the Bear Doesn’t Predict Cable Renewals & Cancellations” but that’s just because most of our readers, even those familiar with the bear aren’t familiar with the bear chasing metaphor. There are enough questions where a post at least once a year on this topic makes sense.

    the @TheCancelClown comment wasn’t chiding! Depending on the results/effort ratio, I’m not above concocting predictions that are almost completely pulled out of my nether regions, so long as it’s clearly spun as “for entertainment purposes only.”

    One thing we don’t do where there is probably some bang for the buck is a cable Renew/Cancel *status* list for scripted cable shows (excluding kids’ shows). Certainly not a weekly thing, but it seems manageable. I’ll alpha test in the near future.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “I probably would’ve titled the post “Why the Bear Doesn’t Predict Cable Renewals & Cancellations” but that’s just because most of our readers, even those familiar with the bear aren’t familiar with the bear chasing metaphor. There are enough questions where a post at least once a year on this topic makes sense.”

    I agree, and now it does!

  • Casey

    I already knew why the bear didn’t chase cable shows. But I think it is being a little cruel for the bear not to be allowed to eat a show that is dropped dead in front of his cave by a cable channel.

    The bear can chase network dinner, cable is kinda like pizza delivery.

  • Hugh

    It would almost entirely be on the bubble. The top show would always be Certain, maybe show #1 depending on how many shows they have. The bottom show, if its way under the rest may be likely cancelled.

    IDEA: Not a bubble watch, but a show watch. At the end of the season of every scripted show on AMC, FX, USA, TNT, A&E post the season average ratings compared to every other show on the network. Give readers the option to guess themselves.

  • tjw

    I got bored so I ran the numbers for USA from last October through this September:

    Suits – 1.48
    Burn Notice – 1.29
    Royal Pains – 1.16
    White Collar 1.13
    Psych – 1.08
    Covert Affairs – 1.03
    Necessary Roughness – .86
    In Plain Sight – .78
    Common Law – .68
    Fairly Legal – .66
    Political Animals – .55

    Common Law, Fairly Legal, and Political Animals were all canceled. In Plain Sight was declared the final season before it aired. USA was basically all shows averaging a 1.0-1.3 or shows averaging a .5-.6. There was no apparent difference between shows that aired in the Fall, Spring, or Summer. It should also be noted that In Plain Sight, Common Law, and Fairly Legal all aired on Fridays.

  • Brandon Rowe

    Cable ratings are just so different and even amongst the different channels it’s hard to say which will be renewed/cancelled. It’s like trying to put Alphas vs Dallas vs a premium channel show like Dexter. There is no comparison. I thought that would be fairly clear to other people. Plus it’s kinda easy to guess the renewals/cancellations for cable. There are rarely any surprises for the main dramas anyway.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    @tjw, my point is that the position of Fairly Legal would probably have been nearly identical had you run those numbers a year ago, and yet USA didn’t cancel it after its first year. They had so much room on their schedule, they were still able to premiere new shows without canceling their low rated shows first.

    Do you see my point now?

    We can make lists like that for cable shows, but even when its obvious what shows are the lowest rated on a cable network, they don’t have to be canceled!

  • Tjw

    Oh yeah, I know. Like I said, I was bored and was curious what it looked like. I don’t think those types of numbers have any real predictive power. I was also startled by how few episodes aired. The entire year comprised about 140 episodes. I can’t imagine trying to do this with networks that air fewer shows (which is pretty much every other cable network). Then add in other weird things like the Tyler Perry syndication model and it would just be a mess. I completely understand why you guys don’t try to predict cable like the broadcast networks.

  • Jon

    I like some of the USA programming. I watch Suits and covert affairs, and am going to start to get into white Collar. For TNT I watch almost all of the shows they put out. One shouldn’t forget about AMC either, they sure have some good shows too.

  • KevinY

    And look at Louie on FX. That show will probably never be canceled, he’ll just end it when he finally wants to, almost like Larry David with Curb. Its always had low ratings but he is a darling of the critics and his show is relatively inexpensive to produce.

  • Ben

    I wonder if the woman in the picture is supposed to be Jordana Spiro, (who plays Dr. Grace Devlin), from Mob Doctor?

  • Brian

    I just want more Alphas, Haven, Falling Skies, and Homeland and I’m good :)

  • JW

    Maybe instead of a bear, maybe cable shows run from an animal that strikes at random and/or without warning. The Cancellation Snake, perhaps?

  • Martine

    Shows get cancelled on cable just the same as anywhere else. There are so few good shows anywhere.

  • Martine

    Im voting “no” for a cancellation snake. I don’t think that has legs. No pun intended.

  • Scrootie

    Another thing: cable shows look at much more than initial viewing. On HBO, the initial airing episodes of Girls averaged about 1 million viewers, but across the entire week with repeats, the same episode was viewed by a total of over 4 million viewers. That’s one huge difference for cable. If you want to accurately predict renewal/cancellation for cable, you will have to add the viewership of all repeat episodes across the week. Whereas network tv only looks at the premiere episodes.

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