Commentary

How True Is Cable TV's Dual-Revenue Stream Argument These Days?

"Saving Grace" or "Mad Men": which show gets the bigger ratings? That would be "Saving Grace." But that doesn't mean success -- even factoring in any dual-revenue stream argument.

TNT's "Saving Grace" had been averaging a respectable 3.5 million viewers per outing last year, to make it one of the better performing cable dramas. This year numbers are a bit lower. A recent episode clocked in at just over three million viewers, for example.

"Mad Men"? Last year it averaged 1.5 million viewers -- half as much as "Grace." ("Mad Men" did earn 2.8 million viewers in this year's premiere.) Still, "Mad Men" is an overall success, right? AMC would tell you so, and so would its producer Lionsgate.

Fox Television Studios, producer of "Saving Grace,"  would tell you a different story -- that while "Saving Grace" scored well domestically, there were other issues: weak DVD sales, and little interest in the all-important overseas markets.

TNT wants "Grace" to come back. So far, Fox hasn't complained that a low license fee is another possible reason for the show's just-announced cancellation.

Meanwhile, virtually all major media companies, media agencies, and some advertisers, want to take a shot at competing with Nielsen, looking for a "single source" of video measurement to offer to its customers.

I don't know whether this would have saved the life of "Grace" -- in what will be a three-year run for the TNT drama when all is said and done.  But "Grace" has performed better than many cable dramas that have indeed fallen further in viewership, like the last episodes of USA Network's "The Starter Wife."

The cancellation of "Grace" was surprising, too, in light of the fact that Fox seemed close to having enough episodes to sell into the U.S. syndication market. To be honest, Fox hasn't disclosed the cost of the production. But c'mon -- apart from Earl's sci-fi-like, bright-white angel wings, it can't really be that much.

As for "Mad Men," it kind of reminds me of Fox's "Arrested Development." Critics loved that comedy. It won big Emmy awards -- but weak viewership. The same stuff is attributed to "Men."

What do "Men" and "Grace" have in common? Both are the beneficiaries of dual-revenue streams at their respective cable networks.

Currently cable proponents (and snickering broadcast network executives) would say it's about the dual-revenue stream that can support cable programming, in the long term.

Not this time -- at least not to to individual producers of shows like "Saving Grace."

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