As the year starts, some of your favorite TV shows stopped. We farewell lots of shows in 2018, and with this being the first year Netflix decided to start cancelling shows, it may seem more shows were more discontinued than in previous years. The networks, as usual, axed plenty of shows old and new, like the comedy ‘2 Broke Girls’, which faltered in ratings later into its run. One of CBS’s new show, ‘Wisdom of the Crowd’ was canceled after its star, Jeremy Piven, was accused of sexual misconduct after it premiered in September. We’ve also included in this roundup the shows that knew their end was coming, like ‘Orphan Black’, ‘Girls’, ‘The Vampire Diaries’, and ‘Bloodline’. And many others did not survive their fate – many more you haven’t heard of and too many to count. But do we know when a TV series or content should be discontinued?
That’s a vast question in a period of complexity and abundance of choice on your best platforms. When Mr. Robot aired its season-one finale, USA Network execs were understandably happy about the show’s solid ratings, amazing buzz, and clear brand-changing potential. The launch was nothing short of a triumph, particularly in an era when grabbing viewers’ attention sometimes seems next to impossible. But that’s not how it works in the age of on-demand viewership: with audiences trained to consume shows however (and whenever) they want, networks are now promoting their biggest titles year-round, particularly when such series are in their infancy. Indeed, as soon as Robot season one ended, USA was already actively pushing audiences who’d heard the buzz about Robot to binge the show online, while figuring out ways to keep those already hooked thinking about the series up until its return. ‘You can never stop messaging your franchise,” says Alexandra Shapiro, executive VP of marketing and digital for NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Networks group. ‘The moment you stop is the moment the fans stop paying attention.”
So you mean that, beyond our interest in the obvious creativity and talent of the show, it’s all about marketing; It’s all about managing properly the networks assets. “It used to be enough to just say, ‘Okay, our show is coming back. Let’s just throw some promos on leading up to the premiere,’” they explain. “Now, it’s a more complicated, multilayered, ongoing game to keep your engagement, to keep people consuming it.” The continuous loop of hype has been particularly aggressive with shows launched in 2015 and 2016. You can optimize your weapons to get audiences by linking shows together. Fear the Walking Dead did not need much investment in that sense; The Walking Dead spinoff benefited from being associated with the biggest show on TV among viewers under 50 y.o. And yet, the network made sure to keep audiences engaged with the newbie zombies in between seasons. In the case of Mr. Robot, USA made sure (as most networks do these days) to keep the show available on the network’s video on demand platform, allowing cable subscribers to catch up. But then, at the start of 2016, it did something unusual: It put together a sort of director’s cut of the show for VOD platforms in which episodes ran with unbleeped profanity and unedited adult content, as well as very limited commercials. “We re-pitched the entire season (to viewers) as an almost binge-like experience,” Another bump came after the network’s aggressive campaign for the Golden Globes paid off with two wins for the show. The job of selling TV shows seems to have been a lot easier five, ten years ago, when marketing efforts were almost entirely focused on driving viewers to a limited linear run — i.e., the rollout of new episodes at a scheduled time each week. While making it clear there’s still a “laser focus” on getting (and keeping) linear audiences, “that’s no longer our only objective, we’re in the franchise-building business. We’re trying to build [series] that are able to have success over a long period of time.” The move to maintain marketing momentum year-round is being driven mostly by necessity. Huge swaths of the audience are abandoning both live viewing and even DVRs in favor of on-demand platforms, pushing down Nielsen ratings — and thus ad revenue — for both cable and broadcast series. Ongoing marketing serves two purposes: It helps shore up linear ratings by making sure existing fans of a show remain engaged while at the same time allowing networks to woo new audiences more inclined to watch via on-demand platforms. Those digital viewers might not represent as much potential profit as those who still watch on TV, but they’re growing in number. And it may change the way networks are negotiating exclusivities with platforms like Amazon or Netflix. All of this is a shift from just a few years ago. Some industry insiders draw parallels to the feature film business, where movie studios market franchises — think Star Wars or any of the Marvel movies — as relentlessly as McDonald’s pushes Big Macs. “Television networks … need to become more like studios, reducing their reliance on first-window revenues and reorganizing around longer monetization periods,” We’re already seeing networks adopt this philosophy of patience in other ways. Just a few years ago, there’d probably be palpable disappointment among some newbie TV shows of aggressive marketing and, in the case of some of them, amazing critical response didn’t immediately translate into big Nielsen gains.
So, the reality is there. TV shows are disappearing when some pre-agreed solid KPIs and ratings are dropping…then, just be pragmatic and do the math. If the investment and the ‘huge’ marketing investment are not matching the revenue on investment (mostly in a long-haul as the eco-system changed in the last few years, more patience is needed) and the performance of Nielsen ranks, just forget about your nice storytelling. As we all know, in Hollywood, we stopped to be romantic a long time ago.