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: