Stayin' alive: CBS, other TV networks revise their series cancellation criteria as market changes

As the media and entertainment industry changes around them, traditional broadcasters are getting more flexible about how they manage TV series and increasingly relying on metrics beyond traditional Nielsen ratings to determine whether a show gets the axe. Those changes are reflected in the first wave of cancellations for the fall season, the New York Times reports.

While Wicked City, a dud of a show that sat square in the bottom of the ratings pile, was the first series to be cancelled this season, other low-rated series are either continuing forward or merely having a few episodes trimmed from their production orders -- a not-so-gentle warning from the networks, but certainly kinder than outright shutting down a series.

For broadcasters today, the traditional ratings system isn't enough as "every viewer counts," CBS Entertainment head Glenn Geller said. While advertisers are still mostly interested in the viewers who tune in to a show within three days of its original airing, networks are increasingly evaluating "delayed viewing" data from different sources (including social media posts, of course) to gauge a show's appeal. Behaviors like time-shifted viewing (of VOD episodes, for example), binge viewing and even streaming series weeks or months later are being taken into consideration.

As a recent Engagement Labs report noted, shows like Scream Queens and The Muppets, which have fairly low traditional ratings, are getting what seems like disproportionate buzz on Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites.

And network executives are taking notice. Cutting Wicked City was a no-brainer -- the series' third episode had a 0.4 rating in the 18-49 age demographic, or just over a half-million viewers, the NYT said. But other poor-performing shows that, in past seasons, may not have made it past week three are getting more time to hopefully catch on, perhaps with a bit of nurturing from the networks, executives told the NYT.

Other series, like The Player and Minority Report, have had episode orders cut down but haven't been cancelled -- suggesting that perhaps the networks see additional revenue potential for them if they're licensed to OTT distributors like Hulu, Amazon Prime or Netflix -- but the move is widely seen as a death knell for low-rated series.

For more:
- see this New York Times article (sub. req.)

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