TV Networks: Turn Off vs Tune In

Changing the channel

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

Bursting television viewers’ bubbles is increasingly evident as favorite shows are axed, forever disrupting programs once “on the bubble.” For studios and networks met by a viewer backlash, infuriated over the termination of “XYZ Show,” it’s just another May.

Broadcast networks pitch their upcoming fall season of programs each May during star-studded events, attracting media industry professionals and advertisers from across the land. But these events also indicate which seasoned shows may disappear from the schedule, equating to cancellation.

Dedicated television viewers visit sites like TV By The Numbers. Each day, this platform tracks how individual programs fare via their ratings performance. These data experts determine — as the season evolves — which shows remain in jeopardy and which are safe from the “Cancellation Bear.” The fictional beast, a TV By The Numbers mascot, indicates a program’s level of peril. Similarly, this indicates which shows viewers might “revolt” against the network should they cancel that show. Call it crisis communication in the age of online television communities.

Networks know which shows possess loyal legions of fans, allowing them to tailor content and messages according to their tastes and concerns. For instance, CBS’s The Good Wife, an underrated drama that has reached its best year during its fifth season, was believed cancelled due to low ratings despite mass critical acclaim. Wife’s viewers feared the Cancellation Bear. But CBS was upfront in its March 2014 renewal for a sixth season, thus preventing any mass upheaval closer to May.

From a public relations viewpoint, the decision to renew the show prior to May made both fiscal and, most importantly, audience sense. No mass campaign criticizing CBS for delaying its renewal — or announcing its termination — emerged through CBS being forthright.

NBC's "Parenthood"

Photo from hookedonhouses.net

NBC, on the other hand, has yet to renew its longtime favorite shows Parenthood and Community. Each year, these shows generate minimal ratings yet represent a huge fanbase but are threatened by near-certain cancellation. But they manage to get renewed at the last minute. This has prompted fans to grow frustrated with NBC and, in many ways, turn against the network. More people are catching these programs on Netflix, Hulu and other platforms indirectly connected to the Peacock network.

Guess what? As of April 11, neither show has been picked up for another season nor cancelled. Fans remain wary if favorite characters, whether Parenthood’s Braverman clan or Community’s Greendale college gang, will live to see additional episodes. This translates into often-futile campaigns to “save the show” and additional frustration directed toward the network.

Some efforts are supported, or even started, by websites created by viewers. Johnny Jay’s Sci-Fi Cancellation Watch tracks the out-of-this-world shows’ statuses, including Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and more imperiled series.

What can networks learn from these examples? Renew early or let the Cancellation Bear quickly strike its victims?

After all, the slowest deaths are the most painful – even if they occur fictionally on the small screen.

Can you think of strategies networks should execute to ease viewer concern regarding potential cancellations of favorite shows? Share your ideas.

– Brett Nachman

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