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!

  • Chris

    OKay, I’m a little lost with:

    “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”

    Soooo, cable shows live in a different plane of existence where they can air at the same time on the same channel? LOL. To me, the only way this somewhat makes sense for non-subscription (i.e. not HBO, Cinemax, etc.) is taking Turner and using their conglomerate of channels (TBS, Turner Classic, etc.). But this would mean that they would somewhat violate their own business rules for the meaning of those channels. So why can’t those shows still face a cancellation bear? They still have to remain profitable even if the rating needs are lower.

    If you are talking about subscription based shows, yeah the paradigm can be different but like above you can’t make money off of syndicating an original if no one watches it or it is too risque for public broadcasting. Even in DVD/Hulu sales, there is a limit of how low of a threshhold there is unless it is privately run by a person who just so happens to LOVE something like Animal Practice and has money to burn. Otherwise, those powers that be have to have a reason as to why they burn the money to their board of directors.

    Sorry, please clarify for me.

  • Sophia

    I read this article, and the reply of you and tjw, i still can’t figure out why USA cancelled those shows this year. I really love Common Law. USA said the rating is too low, and it couldn’t be saved, but according to your words, maybe it would be ok last year? But why it was cancelled this year? Thank you.

  • Jay

    Please cancel “Underemployed” ON MTV, it’s awful.

  • intexor

    You can justify it no matter how you want, all I hear is “we don’t do it because it’s not worth it in terms of extra revenue”. It certainly can be done but you would have to use more specific parameters, and this for every single channel. It’s not worth the effort for you guys, I understand that. But don’t pussy out by saying it can’t be done. You just won’t do it, and there are reasons for that. The reason isn’t that it’s impossible.

  • Theoacme

    @intexor: Once more, from the top:

    Because cable networks do not program in the same way that broadcast networks do, they do not have as many actual discrete prime-time programs as the broadcast nets do.

    And they usually have sufficient open space where they do not have to cancel like CBS does.

    And budgets are lower, and seasons are generally shorter, and the shows get repeated within the week.

    For all of these reasons, cable networks do not have to cancel a show when they commission a new one. So, therefore, they are not predictable economically (see, Nielsen, A.C., and sampling every household in America, and who would pay for that).

    Therefore, it is defacto impossible.

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