Today while playing the role of librarian, I pulled out the long neglected Supernatural series rating chart that I keep here for reference and added the first three episodes of season five. While I’m certainly enjoying season five so far as are all the diehard fans, it’s no secret that the ratings have been a bit disappointing. Heck, they’re worse than season three, and that was the basement ratings season. Or are they? Allow me to quell the fears I’ve seen out there with my usual vices of rationality and statistics. Below is why Supernatural’s lower ratings aren’t harming the show.
1.        Supernatural is way up in the CW’s coveted demo numbers, 18-34 women.   
So much so, the last three weeks Supernatural has been the recipient of something once unheard of, The CW spin. While those of us that track these things have usually rolled our eyes at these desperate cries for attention by this netlet, you got to admit they’re making our show look good. The CW really wants to make Thursday nights as a whole their event night rather than just promoting The Vampire Diaries, which so far the network’s most successful show created just for The CW and a target demographic dream.   
Here’s a sample of today’s press release:
Now in its 5th season, SUPERNATURAL has seen its ratings grow over last season by 36% with women 18-34 (1.5/4), 9% in adults 18-34 (1.2/3) and 17% in women 18-49 (1.4/3).

SUPERNATURAL faced tougher competition (against the “Grey’s Anatomy” and “CSI” premieres), and still retained 92% of last week’s adults 18-34 rating (1.2/3), 100% of its adults 18-49 audience (1.2/3), 100% of its women 18-49 (1.4/3) and 96% in total viewers (2.66mil).

In its first night against all original competition, The CW’s Thursday is up year-to-year in key demos, +7% in adults 18-34 (1.5/5), +54% in women 18-34 (2.0/6), +29 percent in women 18-49 (1.8/5), +57% in female teens (2.2/9) and +6% in total teens.

2.       Thursdays at 9 pm is a tough sell.
The CW ever since it came into existence knows that none of their other shows were going to be competitive on the busiest time slot of the week. Sure, Smallville had a chance, but it made no sense to put Smallville on at 9pm when it is a more family friendly show that the graphic horror often shown on Supernatural. They stuck with what worked at the WB, Thursday night sci-fi. No other networks were doing that so it was a perfect niche.  Unfortunately, FOX went and ruined that this year by putting Fringe opposite Supernatural. They both share the same audiences, so naturally there has been some attrition with both in terms of live audiences.
3.        Are all viewers being counted?
DVR Live +7 ratings for the season haven’t been released yet. Last season, just about all of the Thursday night shows, especially the ones at 9pm, had their presence on the top twenty DVR+7 time shifted ratings. Supernatural was no exception. DVRs are now in 36% of the homes, and even though most shows are still watched live, Thursdays at 9pm and Mondays at 8pm are so crowded the DVR numbers are way bigger for those slots. 
Season Three had an average of a roughly 420,000 viewer increase by DVR. In season four, that number went up to 540,000. With increased competition, there will be increased alternatives for watching the episodes. I’m curious to see if the DVR numbers will continue to trend upward as the ratings go lower. Also, ratings via online viewing, iTunes, and DVD rentals (aka Netflix) are not released to the public. 
Also, there is a growing rift between the networks and AC Nielsen over their method for tracking ratings. There are studies that more people are watching TV, yet Nielsen shows ratings across the board crashing at stunning levels. The theories are they are watching cable more, but is that really what’s happening? Number of households watching TV is way up too. The most popular case so far has been American Idol. Nielsen says ratings are declining, Fox claims it has data that proves otherwise. This has forced the big six media firms to start their own consortium for tracking ratings along all mediums. It’ll take a while to get that off the ground, if it does, but for right now traditional ratings are losing more and more of their credibility.  
The CW constantly asserts to advertisers that more people are watching their shows that the ratings indicate since their younger skewing viewers aren’t traditional viewers.   They may have a case.
4.        Economics
TV show renewal these days doesn’t seem to be based on ratings anymore. Sure, it’s a factor, but there are cases where they aren’t the main reason. Take for example 90210 on The CW. This show started off huge, but slipped quite a bit in quality and as a result their viewership tanked. By the end of the season, the show had trouble pulling over 2 million viewers. However, it was renewed early and given a full season order. Why? It makes $2 million per episode for CBS Television Studios. There’s more focus these days for TV shows to either make money upfront (which usually comes from international distribution) or significantly cut the losses that happen the first few years traditionally for a show. Considering CBS is half owner of The CW, they’ll take a loss on the network in order to gain on the studio end. 
Another case is Dollhouse. Every single statistic used in the past for determining a ratings success on a major network had that show cancelled. So why did it get renewed? The show is cheap, and it’s Joss Whedon’s show, which will guarantee a set of core viewers for the lowly Friday night. The show did well in DVD sales too, as Whedon’s shows often do. As a matter of fact, smaller shows, especially cult and sci-fi, do better in DVD sales than most traditional network shows.
As I recently showed in Supernatural by the Numbers this show makes a lot of Warner Brothers, the other half owner of The CW. I’ve said it many times before, I’ll say it again. It pays to have your studio also be an owner of the network. Updated sales figures for the season four DVD set alone in just US sales is 302,168 units for total revenue of around $11.2 million.   That’s only two weeks worth of sales. That doesn’t count worldwide, nor what they’ve earned so far from other seasons. 
I don’t blame all of us wanting the best for our show though, and ratings tracking ended up becoming a habit for several fans (like myself) when the show was considered a bubble show. Trust me when I say, that the question about a season six won’t come down to marginal ratings. It will come down to economics for Warner Brothers and if The CW can come up with a suitable replacement for one impossible time slot. The way things are going for this netlet with two older shows in need of retirement first and other slots left to fill, the prospects of finding a replacement for a buzz worthy show like Supernatural by next season are very slim. However 2.62 million is a bad number for a third episode of the season. Considering CSI lost 6 million viewers though and every other show was down, it’s a trend and one that will continue without a ratings system overhaul. All fans can do is keep getting the word out and sharing the love.

The ratings chart can be found here:  http://www.thewinchesterfamilybusiness.com/supernatural/18-ratings.html

Comments  

Narcissus
# Narcissus 2009-09-25 22:46
Numbers have a tendency to just roll off my head, so I didn't really understand most of what you were saying hahaha... But I'm taking your word for it Alice. If you say it's not so bad, it's not so bad.
meissara
# meissara 2009-09-26 01:01
Thank you for this. People (myself included) see ratings that aren't as high as last season and start to freak out. I think a lot of us assumed that the ratings were only going to keep getting higher so it was a shock to see that they were lower. So thank you for putting these numbers into a larger picture and helping fans see that maybe lower ratings aren't the end of the world.
Petranda
# Petranda 2009-09-26 14:11
I blame the lower numbers on the Winchester Rift. A couple of friends watched Lazarus Rising with me because they were intrigued with my enthusiastic Winchester Bros recaps every friday morning. The 4th season made me out to be a liar,so I pushed my prior seasons DVDs on them to prove that Sam and Dean LOVED each other more than anything damn it. Really! I swear! They are devoted! *LOL* I lost the battle though, because they lost interest after a few episodes. My friend said "its just another horror show without that connection".So IF she were a Neilsen person, she would represent like 20-30k people right? How many more casual fans lost their enthusiam watching Sam and Dean grow apart? There ya go,my absolutely scientific answer to the ratings issue. Now if I could just convince Kripke that SPN would beat Greys Anatomy and he would win an emmy if he would just write a big cathartic Winchester chick flick moment(and hug) that lasted 3-5 minutes. ;-)
Alice
# Alice 2009-09-26 23:30
This was a VERY bad week for The CW. Smallville only got 2.5 million viewers and a 1.0 in the demo in the season premiere! Supernatural ended third for the week in total viewers, with Vampire Diaries number one at 3.81 million and America's Next Top Model at 2.8 million. That show used to draw 4.5 to 5 million easily!

Gossip Girl only got 1.9 million and One Tree Hill got 2.2 million. When 2.66 million becomes a Gold standard, something is terribly wrong.
Sablegreen
# Sablegreen 2009-09-28 10:58
OMG...Petranda I couldn't agree with you more. I have been telling people about the family connection of the brothers through thick and thin, as Kripke has so often stated, and then they watched the first few episodes of season 5, and were completely turned off. I even have Mormon friends who watched the show and left when the boys developed their rift.

I had my mother interested in the show, for which she gave up 'Bones', until Kripke had the 'Wincest' fan in the opener. Of course, my mom is outside the age group CW appeals to, but just to show, other age groups can get interested. I don’t think Kripke story would have lost anything if the fan had been from another group.

Yea....to bad we can't convince Kripke to go down a different road with the boy's family issues. I know the same thing could have been accomplished without the parting. Once you've lost fans, usually they don't come back. And SPN needs all they can get.




I
elle
# elle 2009-09-28 11:40
Thanks for this article, Alice. It's good to have the breakdown that I can understand.

Personally, I think factors outside the actual show are influencing the ratings, especially considering we are only three episodes in. I don't know that the rift is to blame considering that most of season four, arguably the most sucessful season to date, the boys had a huge disconnect in their relationship. In season five so far the boys have actually only been physically apart for one episode and with the great ratings of season four fresh in my mind, I find it unlikely that viewers have stopped watching because of this one episode. Certainly, season four had episodes filled with tension between the brothers (examples: Sex and Violence, Death Takes a Holiday, When the Levee Breaks) so to say that the tension in season five has lead people to stop watching doesn't make sense to me. I can't believe that the dip in ratings is due to the storyline (which personally I find to be great television) given that other shows aren't fairing much better when you look at the numbers. In my household, I am not home on Thursday nights at 9 p.m., so I watch later via tape or internet viewing. The fans are still there, I just think the medium and method of choice to view is shifting.
Petranda
# Petranda 2009-09-28 15:02
I would watch the show no matter what - I am absolutely hooked on The Winchesters and would probably continue to watch if the boys became vacuum cleaner salesmen.I can't believe SPN is not a top ten show! So I look to other people (casual viewers) for answers. Sometimes I blame the religious issues, or the stupid time slot, and most recently my new scapegoat is the estrangement. *sigh* Maybe its a green issue and people hate the gas guzzling Impala :lol:
Alice
# Alice 2009-09-28 22:04
I read a theory that I actually think holds water. Smallville used to be appointment television for many, those outside the demos. They would stick around to watch Supernatural too so overall ratings were high for both. Since Smallville went to Fridays, a chunk of those viewers are either watching Supernatural on DVR at a later date now or forgetting the show altogether.



The demos are up because the younger viewers from The Vampire Diaries are sticking around, but considering most of them probably don't know the show by now, finding out in season five is likely something they're not going to do. What's funny is that's just fine with the network. They can actually make more money on higher demos than viewers. It's a sad corporate entertainment world.
renee
# renee 2009-09-28 23:57
You always make me feel better!