You know, if I put “Does Supernatural Need A Better Network?” up as a poll question, my guess would be the results would turn out 99% yes and 1% no. That 1 percent of dissenters would be likely due to a couple of trigger happy mouse clickers that hit the wrong button.
 
Considering that 75 percent of all new shows fail, and far fewer of what's left actually make it to season five, Supernatural can be viewed as a blazing success. Yet this show has never been a ratings smash. Many fans believe it could be if it were on a different network. Are they right?
 
It’s A Netlet
 
Networks are a strange breed, but none get stranger than The CW. It’s not really a network. It’s not a cable station either. It’s a Netlet. So what does that mean? Beats me, but I think it’s an excuse for not kicking the crap out of NBC's primetime with a better strategy when they’re too busy slitting their own throats. 
Mediocrity is the accepted norm at The CW, even if this Netlet is due to lose $69 million this year. 
 
So, how much of a Netlet is The CW really? Revenues are a way to put it in perspective. In last year’s upfronts, The CW (the fifth place network) secured $350 to $375 million in commitments for the season from advertisers. The fourth place network, NBC, secured $1.9 billion. Of course, NBC has NFL football and did air the Olympics, not to mention 22 hours of primetime, plus strong morning and late night programming, but that difference is still staggering. 
 
For a small struggling Netlet, the news doesn't get better. Ad revenues at the upfronts this year are projected to come in at 10-20% less than this year. That would knock The CW down to anywhere from $280 million to $338 million. Also the scatter market, or ads that are purchased closer to viewing time, has dried up considerably and pricing is now coming at a discount. 
 
Ratings
 
Then there's ratings, which isn't even a contest. The CW is only averaging 2 million viewers a night. NBC for their size surprisingly isn't too far ahead at 6 million. What’s worse though is The CW is also getting beat by cable stations too, falling behind USA, Fox News, TNT and Disney in viewers. Those other channels are making money too, thanks to cable subscription fees as well as advertising. Even Univision is drawing more viewers. 
 
So how does The CW survive? Apparently, their strategy is a “laser focus” on the 18-34 female demographic. That commands a premium from advertisers. The way the network is promoted and branded creates the illusion that only young women between 18-34 watch shows on The CW. That's not really true though, for only 400,000 of the 2 million average viewers are in that category. Yep, 1 in 5. 
 
The criticisms are everywhere.  Most analysts think that by focusing on something so narrow that’s killing The CW’s chances for growth. It’s more than growth. Even in their target demographic, The CW can’t compete with other networks. Fox is the grand champion for those highly lucrative young demo viewers, especially when American Idol comes on. House, a big draw with females 18-34, was moved to Mondays at 8pm, opposite Gossip Girl. Since then it's been a slaughter. Gossip Girl's ratings and demos have been way down. Even on House's off weeks Gossip Girl's ratings have been down, because viewers have gotten accustomed to the DVR getting it. Since people aren't watching Gossip Girl, they aren't watching One Tree Hill either, which is interesting since there is no demo conflict during their time slot with other shows like 24. 
 
Then there’s 90210. The CW only needed one hit to get on the map, and rode all their hopes (and financial resources) this season on thatThat show was supposed to be the savior of the network. It premiered to 4.6 million viewers and tons of hype. Since American Idol came on though, the ratings have especially nosedived.  
 
The CW continues to spin though. As an example, a press release went out for 90210 after the April 14th episode when Tori Spelling guest starred, touting their best ratings in two months. The total viewers rose to 2.1 million viewers. 2.1?   The main crux was that the 18-34 demo was a 1.8, and the 18-34 demo for women was a 2.3. Adults 18-49 was a 1.2.   That previous week, the top rated scripted show, Smallville, got a 1.7 in the 18-34 demo, but a much higher 3.54 million viewers. Smallville usually gets a 1.9 or 2.0 in men 18-34, and 1.5 women. This was a lower than normal display for Smallville, but one can't help but wonder where's the logic when a show getting 1.4 million more viewers and has more young men watching gets less attention. Last I heard, a 40 year old man buys stuff too.
 
The latest episode of 90210 BTW had 1.8 million viewers with a 1.4 in 18-34, while Smallville had 3.4 million viewers and a 1.5 in 18-34. There was no press release.
 
Supernatural, even though it's The CW's third highest rated show and easily one the most consistent with total viewers, does the worst of the top shows in 18-34. Why? For one, it goes against The Office and Grey's Anatomy, two juggernauts in the 18-34 demo. The latter especially takes the female viewers. Just recently, when those two were in repeats, Supernatural got their highest 18-34 numbers in years, a 1.7 (and a CW press release). The norm is a 1.2. It should also be noted that Supernatural and Gossip Girl are the network's biggest draws for 12-17, averaging around a 1.9. Gossip Girl though is what gets sold to the advertisers at a premium.
 
Despite the "laser" focus, there's no evidence the strategy is working. All the financial resources to build the buzz for 90210 seem wasted, for the audiences tuned in for curiosity and never stayed, mainly due to it being a crappy show. Same thing happened to NBC with Knight Rider and The Bionic Woman. These networks are forgetting one basic concept when doing reboots of old shows. Viewers still want the show to be good, no matter what it’s called.
 
Also, recent DVR ratings show 40-50 percent of 90210 and Gossip Girl's viewers watch via DVR. The CW tries to spin that, saying their shows get more viewers than the ratings indicate, but so far advertisers aren't as impressed. The DVR is translating to buzz, but not money.
 
A Different Network?
 
So, given all this info, the case can be made that Supernatural deserves a better network right? One that will reward higher viewers, not higher young female viewers? 
 
Not so fast. Looking at season one, Supernatural’s ratings went from a high of 5.8 million (Route 666?) to 3.5 million on The WB. Granted much of that dip is because they moved mid-season from Tuesdays to Thursdays at 9pm, but on any other network those drops would be a sure case for cancellation. How it made the new CW lineup is anyone's guess, but theories lie with its perfect pairing with the flagship show Smallville and the fact it’s an in-house show. 
 
Look at Chuck on NBCThat show gets plenty of buzz and averages 6.5 million viewers. For NBC, that makes it one of their higher rated shows. Still, it's fighting for renewal. One reason is because it’s owned by Warner Brothers, and NBC wants a lower license fee. This is where being an in-house show is an advantage.
 
Let’s also remember, the big four have higher standards. Sinking ratings for a Warner Brothers show wouldn’t have gone over well on any of them. Moonlight, another Warner Brothers show, earned an average of 8 million viewers for CBS, and that was on a Friday night. Still, it was cancelled by CBS anyway after one season. What they’ve replaced it with has done worse, but CBS doesn't mind since they're paying less money for it too.
 
How about cable? The Sci-Fi network would be perfect for Supernatural, right? Believe it or not, The Sci-Fi network gets less ratings than The CW. Rather than turn into a great network for all things Sci-Fi, it’s been a mess. Even the series finale of Battlestar Galactica, a buzz worthy critically acclaimed show, only got 2.36 million viewers. This was Sci-Fi’s best performance of the year. Plus, Sci-Fi is owned by NBC Universal, so that whole in-house show thing again applies. 
 
It seems that the best fits would be TNT or TBS, considering both are owned by Time Warner, the parent company of Warner Brothers. Both cater to men too, and would seem like a good fit. TNT has The Closer, which is getting roughly 7 million viewers. So why doesn't Supernatural go there? Original programming is very expensive for cable and they can't carry a full load of shows. If they do, they won't be taking another network's leftovers, especially when they're trying to build their own brand.
 
Like it or not, Supernatural is stuck with The CW. However, The CW is stuck with Supernatural too. Rumor has it CW President Dawn Ostroff has never been a fan of the male skewed sci-fi programming she inherited, but both Smallville and Supernatural are consistent draws and the only shows on the network that do well in repeats. They form a stable Thursday night block that bring in more viewers than any other night, precious demo or not.  Plus they both make money for Warner Brothers internationally (especially Supernatural, which airs in 70 countries), so Warner Brothers as half owner of the network exercises their "influence" on that night. Dawn has no choice but to run with them to lure viewers to the network and keep affiliates happy. 
 
The CW is in its third season, and despite all their promotional efforts, four of their five top shows (America's Next Top Model, Smallville, Supernatural, and One Tree Hill) are leftovers from The WB and UPN. Only Gossip Girl is their top original show. It's understandable when promoting the network that they're desperate to make Gossip Girl and 90210 a success. If the other shows were gone (with Smallville and One Tree Hill both beyond their shelf life) the network wouldn't exist. They are desperately trying to build their future. Time is running out though, as well as money, so if the "laser focus" doesn't work, they're done.
 
Other Points of Confusion
 
Why do ratings always dip in the half hour for Supernatural?
 
I hear this one a lot, and suspect this happens with all 9pm shows for The CW. The trouble is, Nielsen tracks viewers who tune in all the way to 9:59. With The CW (Fox too), local news or local programming is next, so many change the channel a minute or two before then. If The CW ran Supernatural all the way to 9:59, that would fix things. They do so with Smallville, which always gives Supernatural a great lead in.
 
Ratings in fifteen minute breakdowns are more telling, but usually only the networks get those.
 
Why are some weeks significantly lower than others?
 
For one, The CW has affiliate problems. Many local affiliates find it’s more lucrative to show local sports than to air CW shows at their normal times. When a market like New York or Chicago shows sports, that's usually a healthy drop in the ratings. On my ratings chart, you'll see at least for the fourth season which weeks were interrupted for sports.
 
Also, and this is true for all networks, ratings are lower in the spring. The season low for Supernatural so far has been "Jump The Shark." On that night, eleven shows hit either season or series lows. Grey's Anatomy hit a series low with 13 million viewers (they have been doing 16-17 million) as did CSI with 15 million (they usually do over 20 million). The culprit, the first 80 degree day for most of the country this year. Yep, weather plays a role too.
 
It should also be noted "Jump The Shark" only had to best numbers for same time last year. Considering that was Ghostfacers, which hit a series low 2.2 million, that wasn't hard. So, it was really up half a million viewers, and the demo was much higher too. That's something advertisers notice.
 
As I've said before, Supernatural has managed somehow to succeed despite its crappy network. As fans we always hope for better, but it could be far worse. A fifth season is a huge reason to celebrate, and we don't need all young women 18-34 to do it. You’re welcome CW. 
 

Comments  

elle2
# elle2 2009-05-12 19:13
Alice,

Wow, I mean, wow! I'll need to read this again for sure but WOW. You really research your stuff and then present it quite thoughtfully.

I'm with you on SPN being stuck with CW and vice versa. Sure, it would be 'nice' to have the show get more credit but...there's also a fear that it would get badly degraded. Most major networks have the same illness(especia lly CBS) and that is that there HAS to be inneroffice/inn erteam workings romance -- which is really just sex and bad dialogue -- face it, CBS has done well with the procudurals and I enjoy kicking back and wasting an hour on NCIS, Numbers and Criminal Minds but I've given up CSI( not hard to figure out why) and never watched the other two..except Miami to laugh at how all the other actors seem to be catching on to Caruso's really bad acting. As much as I may be found at 9p.m on Wed with Criminal minds or 10:00 p.m. on Friday with Numbers, I don't watch them with the intensity I do SPN. Usually when those are on I'm balancing my checkbook or sorting my socks or browsing through all the mail (Junk) I haven't gotten to yet and neither do I tape or rewatch.

SPN for all it's flying under the radar is doing supremely well likely because it flies under the rader and the network idjits that do tinker with it seem to back off or get 'outfoxed' by Kripke and CO. eventually and that likely would not happen on CBS which would be certain to make sure Ruby became an innerteam romance for Sam and then broke up with him to date Dean and then there would be a love triangle in S5...CBS just can't get it through their minds that their 'beautiful' people do not need to be jumping into bed with each other all the time....sheesh.

All right. I"ve ranted and now need to eat dinner.

Great article, thanks for all the research and effort that went into it.
Diana Martins
# Diana Martins 2009-05-12 19:43
I love Supernatural series! I bought them all seasons! I don't want to see SN go or be cancelled! That would make me very sad!
Raluca
# Raluca 2009-05-12 20:08
I can relate with what you wrote about the CW . Case study here in Romania, the show was picked up in 207 by Pro tv the largest tv station for young dmeographics 14-35/ it was from monday to thursday- in the same package with prison break, both show , weren't marketed at all, despite the fact that prison break was started to be known a lot in romania, and supernatural it was that rumour that we all heard from our friend in the states, ' go watch it', that's how i got into the series. a friend of mine on youtube sent me two video, a sumary for season 1 and a vidoe for in my time of dying. now we're struggeling to get the show on AXN romania. why, because ther eit will be much more viewed and with much more publicity then on protv.
Heyda
# Heyda 2009-05-12 22:05
With Supernatural happens the same that happened with "Star Trek". When SPN finish, the CW will realize what a great show they let go, and then will be too late. It will become a classic and they'll wish they had never cancelled it.
SPN is different and much better than the melodramatics "One Tree Hills" and "Gossip Girl" (Aren't them more of the same?, soooo not original). I really hope SPN will last for, at least, a couple of years more. But, If for some stupid reason it does not, maybe doing a film a year about the boys will be an alternative (just like "X Files" and even "Star Trek" have done).
By the way, that Dawn Ostroff clearly does not like innovative, fresh an different shows, and do like the "copycats". Please, look ahead, there's more trascendent topics in life than "cliches" and pink romances and romantic couples relationships. Please, open your minds and do not let your personals preferences block your judgement.
barbara
# barbara 2009-05-13 00:40
If the ratings are calculated to the last minute of the the hour, that would mean those tuning in to watch Supernatural at 8:58 or sooner, That weren't watching Smallville- Smallville gets all of those added ratings? That is not accurate, and a very unfair way to calculate something. How inefficient and stupid.
Taz
# Taz 2009-05-13 00:58
Fantastic job! You answered a lot of questions I've had for a long time. I used to think SN would be better off on any other network. Then I began to notice how many shows on those networks are cancelled, despite respectable ratings. As your article suggests, the CW may not be an ideal network, but it's kept SN on the air. What's more important than that?
Dany
# Dany 2009-05-13 06:06
Hi everyone!

Just to say that here in Portugal spn run's in 2 (yes, two) channels and they both pretty god with the promos for the show, one is the national tv (thursday's at 22:30) and the other is the cable network AXN (monday's at 22:30 after Criminal Minds), and usually they both airing it at the same time (with a 2/3 ep diference). As for season 4 the national tv will probably be airing it in september (like usually), but this time AXN did it diferent and started season 4 the week next to the end of season 3, so right now it's airing season 4 (last monday I rewatched Metamorphosis) and I'm rewatching first episodes wile waiting for the last next friday (yes, I´ve got to wait until friday night! Arggggg).
Alicia
# Alicia 2009-05-13 08:49
Wow, nice break down of all the infleuncing factors. I was talking with a friend about Heroes and how their numbers have dropped and rumors of a cancellation. He told me what their lowest audience draw for an episode was and I told him that even at their lowest thats still a huge number for SPN. He seemed surprised SPN was even still on air. So I let him borrow season one and he's watching it on his business trip now :D Hopefully we'll have a new fan by season 5... either way thanks to your article I understand how its been a gift and curse to be on the CW. I'm so proud of the fans :mrgreen:
josh
# josh 2009-05-13 10:19
you know.. the only reason I watch the cw is for supernatural. I used to watch smallville with supernatural, but that was when they were on the wb. So yes.. smallville has gone passed it's prime.. and supernatural is about to go for it's final season(5) this fall.

Kripke has long since said he has a storyline for only 5 seasons.. and the boys say they are tired and would only pursue 5 seasons... also because it's in their contract for 5 seasons.. if they go beyond that.. I don't think it'll be as great as it's been. Maybe.. if there is enough storyline left, they can do a spin-off series. Show a back story of Mama Winchester and why Yellow Eyes went after her family (and Sam) rather than any other hunters fam.

??? :twisted: ;-)
Leah
# Leah 2009-05-13 11:04
As someone who has a good amount of knowledege and experience with marketing and advertising, I have always been annoyed with Supernatural on the the CW. You made a lot of good points in this post, especially about how CW has a "laser focus" for the 18-34 female market. In terms of marketing and advertising, that is the stupidest thing a network could do in this day and age. Honestly whoever handles the advertising for this network is a moron. When they realized they were in trouble, they should have broadened their target market to include more than just females. I mean, COME ON, Supernatural could totally appeal to a male market if they simply MARKETED IT TO A MALE MARKET. Yes, I can understand why Supernatural mainly does attract a female market because of those two dashing lead men in the show, but I think if they invested more time targeting the other sex the show would do even better.
For example, I have a male friend at work that I got into the series by lending him DVDs. His view of the CW is extremely negative though. He hates that network and I think most males are put off by that network because the shows are so obviously targeted at females. I can see why a lot of males would simply be uninterested. The only other show that I can really see attracting males would be Reaper.

All and all I absolutely LOATHE the CW and think that they handle their advertising and marketing horribly, but I am thankful that Supernatural is still around and that they have not been canceled seeing as how that probably would have happened on any other network.

Thanks for the well researched and informative post.
Bethany
# Bethany 2009-05-13 15:18
Hey at least you guys get the really bad "scary just got sexy" ads we got here in the UK, turned so many people off the show. And it's either shown on ITV2 at 9pm on Sundays(a freeview channel - it's free but you need to buy the freeview box to get the channels) or there's a repeat on Thursdays at 11pm (which is better because they used to show the repeat in the early hours on terestrial tv which is how I found it - don't ask).

However it is the top rated programme on ITV2. Or was last time I looked.
I also have spent quite some time ranting about the CW and Dawn Ostroff but having read your article I remembered playing the SPN on a different network game. And although I was of the opinion that SPN would do much better on another network, I couldn't find another network/slot that I thought it would really flourish in. Also I take your point about if it were on another network would they try to interfere, create love triangles etc which would ruin the show. It would be the Bela and Ruby saga all over again.

I think if Dawn O and the CW allow the show to carry on and let Kripke and co do their own thing then we can be glad that we're getting our show, it continues to be awesome without much studio/network meddling and that although not the success it deserves to be that it continues to be that it we still get it how it was envisioned!
Bethany
# Bethany 2009-05-13 15:22
Just to say elle2 I know what you mean. I also have this vague fascination with Criminal Minds and not just because I've had a bit of a crush on Thomas Gibson since Dharma and Greg.

Okay maybe a little bit...
Haley
# Haley 2009-05-16 20:04
I think there may be a season 6 in Supernatural. A combination of clean up the mess and revenge on Winchester's while they try to get back to something resembling normal. What ever that may be for the boys.

I don't think it could go further than 6 but that far I think.
Chris
# Chris 2009-10-26 14:58
The only reason I watch the CW is for Supernatural. The other shows on the CW are just not my cup of tea. And while I think the CW has really dropped the ball on promoting Supernatural, this comment:

"Let’s also remember, the big four have higher standards. Sinking ratings for a Warner Brothers show wouldn’t have gone over well on any of them."

... is why I'm okay with it. Even though I absolutely LOVE Supernatural, I feel that if we were on one of the other networks, we would have been cancelled by now. I like the "small town" feel of our show. It's an intimate and rather quiet show compared to the medical and legal procedural shows out there.

Because when it comes down to it, it's just a show about two brothers who try as best they can to get through each day and help as many people as they can along the way. I just hope the CW survives long enough for Kripke to tell the story he intends to tell.
J.
# J. 2009-11-12 20:48
I'm grateful it's on the CW. Had Firefly started on this network, it would have survived and it's fans wouldn't be screaming for more a decade later. Not all of us want to watch the 15th version of Survivor or American Idol. There is a segment of the population that wants a different kind of show. Believe me, no matter how high of a rating the reality shows get, I will NEVER be counted in that percentage. I'd like to see a Network exec willing to risk keeping a unique show and ignore the numbers.