neilson box

I want to talk about TV ratings and why shows are canceled.

So I always see “why are good shows canceled?!” as a big, bolded question amongst fans of tv shows. They blame it on the network, usually, and whatever network is to blame seems to get bombarded with hatred for this decision. 

The answer actually has little to do with the network (for the most part; see: Fox), and it’s all about TV ratings.

And it’s all about how actually messed up and flawed our TV rating system (Neilson) is.

Basically only like 5,000 people per billions have a little box in their house that they can turn on when they watch a TV show, and if these 5,000 people don’t care for your favorite TV show, your show is probably at risk of being canceled. AND IT’S A HUGE INDUSTRY. Like a billion dollar industry, because advertisers (how TV is paid for and networks get 99% of their money) pay networks to air ads during shows all based on Neilson readings

And in a day of piracy, online streaming, computer age, and no one’s willingness to sit through twenty minutes of commercials during a one hour show… you can see why Neilson ratings are totally inaccurate for the most part. Yes, popular shows on well-known core channels are GOING TO GET HIGH RATINGS. Because they’re… there. They’re out in the open, on big networks that get advertised on billboards and every other commercial on tv, when you go to the movies, when you open magazines, etc. And this is why most long, long-time running shows are on MAJOR NETWORKS. WITH MONEY. TO DO ALL OF THIS. So little shows on cable networks who don’t have a lot of money, but have a huge, loyal fanbase–well, those shows are generally screwed. Some shows are the exception, of course (see CW shows, reality TV, etc.) because they’re what the “average” TV viewer likes. But things that don’t fall into those categories suffer and rarely see past 1-5 seasons.

Ask yourself this: do you or anyone you even KNOW have a Neilson box? Does anyone in fandom (the huge, loyal support of non-mainstream shows, usually) own one? So HOW is it possible that this is what our TV ratings system is based upon? 

I know a lot of TV networks don’t give fair treatment to certain shows that probably lead to their demise, but I’m not talking about the exceptions. I’m talking about shows that probably get a lot of viewers, probably have a huge fanbase and online community, but still get canceled. If the show isn’t on a core network, or on prime time TV, it’s probably less to do with the actual network and more to do with the multi-billion dollar business that stems from Neilson ratings. And to be honest, if Neilson was solely used for prime time TV and major TV networks… it would probably work? I mean, I’m not an expert on the issue, but I know a fair amount about TV ratings given my habit of loving obscure cable shows. BUT THE SAME SYSTEM USED TO MEASURE SHOWS ON NBC, ABC, CBS, ETC. IS THE SAME METHOD USED TO MEASURE CABLE TV THAT DOESN’T GET THE SAME ADVERTISEMENT. 

It makes me angry, and I truly hope the system changes within the coming years. With the rise of Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, etc., there’s more legit online ways of measuring popularity of a show, but it’s still nowhere near being enough to stop shows with bad TV ratings from being canceled. Until every home that cable shows reach have a box to record whether or not the viewer is viewing, the system is entirely flawed. It may be the network’s fault, but it may just be the system. Keep that in mind.