Why We Don't Do Renewal & Cancellation Predictions For Cable Shows

Categories: 2-Featured,Cancel/Renew Index,RC3,TV Ratings Reference

Written By

September 16th, 2013

We're often asked "Why isn't there a Renew/Cancel Index for cable shows?" and "Why doesn't the Cancellation Bear chase cable shows?".

Ask no more!

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 correct 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).

  • Broadcast networks are constrained by the scarcity of time in their primetime schedules.
  • Cable networks don't fill their primetime schedules with new programming, so they behave differently, because they can.

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 bumping up against some limits)

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!

 
  • Rick

    This all sounds like a cop out to me.

    If cable networks are a different world, then adapt your calls for that world. Cable might be systematically different than the networks, but they obviously operate like each other. You should be able to come up with a “system” for that. Cable networks must be operating systematically — within their own universe.

    No one would or should expect you to hit the same 95% correct level, but you still should be able to do pretty well.

  • Mary

    I think I agree with Rick, you should be able to make an educated guess. Maybe not on a week to week basis, however, you should be able to get an idea at some point in the show’s run.

    Also, can we bring back the cable network cancellation index–just as a annual or semiannual feature?

  • Mitchell

    If you guys think it’s so easy, feel free to start your own website and do your own cable renewal predictions. Seriously, it’s a wide open market and apparently it’s a piece of piss to guess correctly.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “This all sounds like a cop out to me.

    If cable networks are a different world, then adapt your calls for that world. Cable might be systematically different than the networks, but they obviously operate like each other. You should be able to come up with a “system” for that. Cable networks must be operating systematically — within their own universe.

    No one would or should expect you to hit the same 95% correct level, but you still should be able to do pretty well.”

    Besides the fact that our current methods simply don’t work with cable shows, the relative interest level (and hence the traffic for us) in individual cable shows (at least the ones in any danger) is so low compared to broadcast, that it’s not worth going to the effort to try and figure out a method that does work.

    Whether that makes us lazy or effort efficient is a matter of perspective ;)

    “Also, can we bring back the cable network cancellation index–just as a annual or semiannual feature?”

    That was Robert’s thing. I don’t believe he thought its effort/return ratio was worth it, but I can’t be certain.

  • John

    Isn’t another reason that cable networks have different demos? One might be 25-54 while another could be 12-34. Just women or just men.

  • Mark

    I don’t know, if you had posted a bunch of articles about Bunheads back before it was cancelled, I would’ve been clicking and refreshing constantly!

  • JRG

    Bah, a cable index would have very little meaning. But it be fun to have one. Let people tell you how wrong/right you are. Bring in more traffic. Maybe even more traffic in the summer time when quite a few cable programs are shown.

    Then again, over time using stuff you got wrong, might be able to bring meaning to it.

  • Patrick Ausgewahlt

    There are certain networks like AMC, USA, and FX that could have their own renew/cancel index, but it would probably be too time consuming.

  • Nick

    Didnt TVBYTHENUMBERS have a list somehwere that listed all the cable shows by network and the status (renewed/cancelled)…I know I have seen it and now I cant find it…

  • CBSviewer

    If networks continue to add new Shows to their Summer schedules maybe, one day, we’ll have a “Summer Renew/Cancel Index” :)

  • Ryan Stoppable

    Not only that, you’d also have to figure out exactly what demographic(s) each network is looking at and have breakdowns for them. While it might be A18-49 for some, others may focus on A18-34, M18-49, W25-54, K6-11/9-14, etc.

  • C.S.Strowbridge

    Bill Gorman: “the relative interest level … it’s not worth going to the effort”

    I know how you feel. I write for a movie news site and one of the regular columns used to be reviews of movie websites. It was the most labour intensive regular column at the time, but it wasn’t read by many people. We kept going for a year or so beyond when we should have cut it, because we were the only movie site doing something like that at the time. However, you have to put your time and effort into doing what more readers are interested in.

  • cas127

    “Besides the fact that our current methods simply don’t work with cable shows, the relative interest level (and hence the traffic for us) in individual cable shows (at least the ones in any danger) is so low compared to broadcast, that it’s not worth going to the effort to try and figure out a method that does work.”

    Understood – but a spartan, low precision metric (say “typical” minimum 18-49 cutoff per cable network – a couple of trailing ratings could be posted each time a cable show gets removed…since official “cancellation” may never be announced…).

    Fairly simple to administer (just pull last three or four ratings for removed shows) yet over time it would roughly establish a “cutoff” ratings line for each cable network.

    This “cutoff metric” could increase page views because it puts each cable show in an easily tracked horse race with its own extinction – the sort of thing that spikes casual reader interest (the whole point behind the broadcast cancellation index).

    Flawless accuracy isn’t the point – *something* providing *some* insight into cable network behavior is.

    Such posts might draw viewers because 1) cancellations/removals always affect *somebody’s* favorite/most hated shows, and 2) the “cutoff line” is of interest to the semi-pros in your audience (who likely are the heaviest “page viewers”).

    I think the basic problem is this – the transient “most popular” posts usually seem to involve endless “quality squabbles” among lovers/haters of the most popular shows.

    It is like watching idiots in padded helmets bop each other over the head with Nerf bats.

    Endlessly.

    So these stories are a complete bore for the more industry-inclined readers of your site (who I venture to say are probably some of your highest and most diverse page viewers).

    But if 90% of the site’s content devolves into “your favorite show sucks” squabbles and re-heated network PR…well, you aren’t giving your more interested readers much of a reason to return to this site very often.

  • Doug

    The economics for cable shows are also very different. As they’re not one of the “big 4,” they simply don’t pay as much more programming. Different expectations, although I suspect that is changing.

    Look, of course we know that Sons of Anarchy will be renewed for season 7. The Walking Dead is at no risk for cancellation. But the myriad of X & Y shows on USA? Who knows. They all have similar ratings – there are things behind the scenes that we don’t know about.

    A growing problem with the RC index is the convergence of TV ratings. The distance between a hit and a marginal show in absolute numbers has shrunk dramatically, so percentage gaps looks may look big even if the absolute gaps don’t. You really see this on the CW, where the RC index has wild swings in the middle based upon 0.1 or 0.2 movements in the ratings.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “A growing problem with the RC index is the convergence of TV ratings. The distance between a hit and a marginal show in absolute numbers has shrunk dramatically, so percentage gaps looks may look big even if the absolute gaps don’t. You really see this on the CW, where the RC index has wild swings in the middle based upon 0.1 or 0.2 movements in the ratings.”

    Over a decent period of time (several months) the numbers still separate enough for our purposes. If it becomes a real problem for the CW, I can switch to absolute 18-49 viewer numbers, which would remove the rounding problem.

  • tested

    The problems of trying to figure out what constitutes a good or bad rating for each cable network make this nearly impossible. Besides that, how far do you go? You could easily have 50 networks on such a list. I think the accuracy would be very low.

    The only thing I wish is that perhaps there could be a merged broadcast & cable top shows list (maybe make it a top 100.) I see AP has started to do this in their reporting. You could even do it with a top networks list.

  • Nick R

    You could do Nickelodeon. They cancel everything. lol.

  • Chris

    I have a related question. Why don’t you include reality shows on the networks like Survivor, Amazing Race, Dancing with the Stars, X-Factor and The Voice? They should abide by the same rules and you don’t have to worry about the number of episodes for syndication.

  • BBFan

    I can accept that, but you still should be able to assign a grade to the ratings of cable shows so people can visit the site & get an easy to understand comparison of how cable shows stack up to one another. I feel you’re too hung up on the cancelation bear & underestimating the comparative value the site has to offer.

  • Hyung

    So I guess that means no prediction for “Low Winter Sun”? ;)

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