Sunday, September 16, 2012

18-49 Demo: What’s Good and What’s Bad?

I’ve written many variations of this post in the Bourgy comments and I’m far too lazy to try to locate any of them so this post will serve as the be-all-end-all source for this topic.

As the TV Broadcast season cranks up you will see the words ’18-49 demo’ tossed around in terms of ratings (if you read stuff online. If you watch TV then all the commercials will throw out viewer numbers to make you think the show is a hit). What you need to know is that for broadcast shows, the 18-49 demo is the sword that all shows live and die by and if they aren’t great then total viewers be damned because the show is still going to get canceled. TVBTN has a great post that breaks down what demos are without overwhelming you with words so check that out if you aren’t familiar with it or if you would like to see the updated 2012-2013 season stats.

In a perfect world we would all like to believe that in terms of modern broadcast shows and their ratings this scale (below) would be true. A scale like this holds somewhat true for ABC and FOX shows but with steady yearly ratings declines (with a more severe emphasis in the spring after Daylight Savings Time) this scale could be obsolete for those networks too in a matter of months.

> 4.5 – Superior
3.5-4.4 - Great
3.4-2.7 - Good
2.6-2.1 -Fair
2.0-1.5 - Poor
< 1.5- Terrible

However we can’t apply a scale like this to every network and we also can’t apply this to each type of show (comedy, drama and reality) either. Here are some ways in which the scale cannot be applied to broadcast programs.

The CW

On The CW, it is recognized that every last one of their shows have atrocious ratings. However as a small network, it is not financially feasible to cancel every show every season. For CW shows their ratings are basically judged by how close they are to the highest rated show (for the past 3 seasons that has been The Vampire Diaries). This season will be no different although there are supremely high expectations for Arrow to overtake The Vampire Diaries to be the new top-rated show.

Whether that happens or not, do know that things will become very complicated if either show manages to be the top rated show with an average demo of 1.0 or lower. In that scenario the top 3-4 shows would likely be safe (even if the 3rd and 4th show has an average 0.6 demo) but every show below that would be in danger and then we would end up with a scenario (similar to last season) in which 4-6 shows are on the bubble by the May 2013 upfronts and any combinations of renewals and cancelations would not be surprising.


NBC is a mess and it is no secret. For this network it is impossible to make a scale for their shows. For them it is merely a free for all and it is much easier to look at their ratings and figure out what should be canceled (generally the 2-3 lowest rated shows especially between September-November) than what should be renewed (not including The Voice and Sunday Night Football). This season will prove to be even more of a nightmare because they have more shows than they have available timeslots for, especially comedies so we are looking at scenarios where for dramas, NBC may want to stick with shows with higher than a 1.6 demo average. For comedies they may be less patient and decide early on that any show averaging less than a 1.3 demo might not air more than their already ordered episodes. I also believe that all shows (excluding Friday shows or Rock Center before November) averaging less than a 0.8 will be in severe danger of being canceled and it would require a miracle or a long line of even lower rated shows in front of it to be saved.

CBS Comedies

CBS comedies are highlighted here because unlike most shows, their ratings are held to a very high standard. CBS will not hesitate to cancel their lowest rated comedy even if their ratings would guarantee a sure renewal everywhere else (the 2 most recent victims of this are Rob and $#*! My Dad Says). So what’s bad for a CBS comedy? It appears that anything less than a 3.4 demo puts a CBS comedy in danger and if the show premieres below a 3.0 demo then cancelation is imminent. (Think How to be A Gentleman which premiered last September with a 2.7 demo and was shipped to Saturdays after 2 episodes, aired 1 Saturday episode and was pulled until late May where it burned its last 6 episodes off…on Saturdays). Of course this only applies to their comedies because CBS will not cancel a drama that premieres with a 2.7 demo after 2 episodes.


Fridays are generally a wasteland and for years broadcast networks only threw dead or dying shows, news program and reruns to occupy those hours. Recently the broadcast networks have gotten a little more aggressive with this season being the most aggressive in years. This season, every broadcast network will devote at least 1 hour to scripted programs. For all networks the expectations are indeed low and maintaining a 2.0 demo average over the season may be out of reach. At least a 1.0 demo average (for all networks except The CW) is certainly in reach so shows will be expected not only to pull that but to try to maintain a better average than their reality and news counterparts on the same night.

The 10pm Hour

Ratings anomalies in the 10pm hour for broadcast networks is somewhat of a new issue. In recent seasons the 10pm hour has suffered lower ratings across the board for ABC, NBC and CBS (FOX and The CW do not program the 10pm hour). Most agree that the blame can be split between overall lower broadcast viewer levels, increased cable competition and DVR’s. Since those three factors appear to hit broadcast 10pm shows harder, the threshold for renewal becomes lower. Here shows attracting higher than a 2.5 demo are just about certain to be renewed and shows with a 1.7-1.9 demo average still have a reasonably good chance to be renewed if there are other more pressing needs that the network should address. Anything below a 1.7 demo at 10pm (excluding Fridays) becomes a matter of every show for themselves as they are all in danger.

Late Midseason (March-May)

Late midseason is the time of the year where the networks have completely run out of gas and are just trying to get to the end of the season where they can tout their successes. Shows that premiere here are usually just leftovers that either the networks weren’t completely sold on or just had no room to fit on the schedule. That also means there are hardly any expectations with these shows because most of them tend to crash and burn anyway. This also means that a show with merely average numbers has a much better chance of being renewed (think Scandal) because they aren’t burdened by 13+ episodes of numbers to drag down their averages. Pinpointing a specific demo number for what’s good is a little tricky to do but for these a 2.0 demo seems to be the place where it can be to have a chance. Anything lower means canceling the show would be a much easier decision to make than trying to sort out all of the full-season bubble shows.


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