Is there a new cable program viewership threshold when it comes to what new programs survive --- or are canceled?
Two recent cable network programs -- FX's "Terriers" and ABC's "The Hasselhoffs" -- were canceled, both drawing around 700,000 viewers in their original episodes. Both shows were well under their respective networks' prime-time averages.
"A million viewers is a general benchmark for a new cable program -- probably more for a USA Network, TBS or TNT show," says Brad Adgate, senior vice president and corporate research director for media agency Horizon Media.
Adgate notes there are 20 cable networks that now average 1 million or more viewers in prime time. A&E is at 1.407 million total viewers in prime time, good for 9th place among all cable networks. FX averages 1.192 million, sitting at 13th place. In general, that numerical reality helped doom shows like "Terriers" and "Hasselhoffs" -- both of which came well under that threshold.
Some other networks include: USA, 2.98 million (first place); TNT, 2.16 million (4th place); TBS, 1.75 (7th place); History, 1.56 million (8th place); ABC Family, 1.28 million (11th place); Discovery, 1.191 million (14th place); Syfy, 1.11 million (15th place); Lifetime, 1.06 million (16th place); AMC, 1.04 million (19th place); and TLC, 1.03 million (20th place).
Total viewership is, of course, a rough general measure, say media researchers. Program and media agency researchers will always look to drill down -- analyzing key demographics and looking for areas of growth/loss. But perhaps more than broadcast, established cable networks may still look at overall viewers as a broad, initial indicator.
It's rare for an established broad-base entertainment cable network to pull a show quickly -- as A&E did with "The Hasselhoffs," after two episodes. But some of this may have been given to the fact it was a reality show, typically a genre with less investment than a scripted series. FX's scripted "Terriers," for example, had about a dozen episodes under its belt before it got the big pull.
Broadcast networks -- with bigger development budgets -- usually wait that long. However, this season broadcast networks -- Fox, with "Lone Star" and ABC with "My Generation" -- went fast and quick. Both got the ax after two episode runs.
Scripted shows cost more money and some networks, broadcast and cable alike, tend to keep them on longer -- even if they are doing badly, given the lack of replacements. Also, TV advertisers generally pay more for scripted shows than reality shows.
Cable networks, which seemingly develop fewer original shows, may hang onto struggling series -- but only for one year.
"Put it this way -- an original show that does less than 1 million viewers may not get picked up for a second season," says Adgate. "These networks play in a different financial model. They can run shows over and over again. They have a little more flexibility."
Of course, cancellation depends on a number of factors.
"With the exception of USA, TNT, and TBS, everything is a niche situation," says David Scardino, entertainment specialist at Santa Monica, Calif.-based media agency RPA, and a veteran network and media agency executive. There are many other issues -- the cost of production budgets, the type of demographics, and trending of viewers -- that will decide a show's fate, he adds.
One factor that program researchers are now increasingly looking at, says Scardino, is how the DVR and time-shifting factor into the equation. A low-rated show, which gets a lot of time-shifted viewing, many give networks more hope about future ratings growth.