I'm really proud to share this one.  Sablegreen has been working on this for a while and has done some most excellent research into pursuing a theory about Supernatural's appeal in today's down economy and whether it might have an impact on ratings.  Since I seem to be an avid follower of TV ratings and the whole system, this certainly sparked my interest.  There are several interesting points here that I've never considered before.  We are both very curious to see what your thoughts are on this one.  It's a topic of discussion this site has never taken on before and I'm thrilled to see it. 

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With the current hellatus, it’s time to look back at what’s happened, where we were, and where we are. Ratings have been a big issue the first half of season five. No matter what the season for a series, whether they are up for renewal of season two or season six, ratings are important. The ratings for Supernatural have been slowly declining. Why? In my opinion, for a show this good, it really doesn’t track.   Many aspects affect ratings of any show. Various factors have been but forth for Supernatural ratings, including time slot, the small CW network, the myth arc of the series and the lack of advertising. 

All are factors, but the bottom line is people will watch what entertains them, and what entertains people, in a large part, is affected by economic conditions.    Myth arc or no, if they like the series they will rent the past seasons to catch up. I would, and have, and people are using their TVs now more than ever. As advertisers want to know where to best put their advertising dollars, a lot of information was available on consumer practices. These also give an insight into what people like to watch.

History shows that each time economies really start to struggle (in a recession or depression) a pattern of consumer behavior emerges. Yes, people cut back and reduce their spending significantly, but one area of consumer spending that does not suffer, and sometimes increases during a recession, is entertainment. According to the New York Times Tuesday, November 24, 2009, and I quote:  “Despite sagging home sales, rising unemployment and record-high gas prices, the number of TVs shipped to retailers in the United States and Canada jumped 26 percent compared with the first quarter of this year, and 28 percent year over year, to a total of 9.3 million units.”
 
Staying into watch movies and shows on TV is much more economical, and many families consider their TVs to be a necessity, not a luxury. In financially stressed times, people spend more on products that deliver enjoyment rather than utility. â€œWhen people can no longer afford a vacation or a trip to the movies, TV has always been that last resort,” said Robert J. Thompson, a professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University. So, that means there is a very large viewer audience out there wanting to be entertained by their TVs. So what do they watch?
 
No one will argue that the television industry is experiencing a change. Now with cable, so many viewing opportunities are out there, that the competition for a marketplace has been slowly changing and shrinking the business.  That, plus the onset of digital media, has cause the industry to experience a dramatic upheaval.  Forecasting how this will affect the current recession is hard to say because many of these viewing alternatives like cable channels, digital video recorders, mail-order movie services and video downloads were not widely available during past recessions, including the most recent downturn in 2001.
 
Nielsen ratings indicate consumers are attracted to different genres of TV programs based on economical class. They divide the audience into eight classes for marketing purposes.  Two groups include people who are not affected by the recession…the “Recession Indifferent” and “Recession Insensitive”. These groups are interested primarily in Sports, News, Comedy and Quiz shows. For advertisers who are trying to sell products, they are interested in the classes that have money to spend, so they going to invest in these. This leaves Supernatural out, as it is billed as a show for the middle class which is the hardest hit in the recession, and the middle class comprises the other six groups in the Neilson ratings. However, these six groups contain the majority of the viewing audience, and as the recession deepens, this audience size is growing. These groups do have dollars to spend, but they are just going to be more cautious how they spend them. So how do advertisers decide how to reach the more financially stress? Besides using rating indexes, they look at trends of audience viewing during previous recessions. 
 
Tim Brooks, an author of “The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows,” said there has historically been a relationship between the mood of the country and the type of shows that are popular. Amid the mid-1970s oil crisis recession, shows that depicted previous generations, tradition, strong family bonds and old-fashioned values, such as the Walton’s and Happy Day’s were popular.  Any show epitomizing these traits should appeal to the middle class regardless of the genre.
 
Since the beginning of 2008, the dominant kinds of programming have shifted from gritty crime shows to reality shows that are in many cases very escapist, and escapism is what sells in a recession. And reality shows are much cheaper to produce than scripted shows. These include feel-good shows like American Idol, and Dancing with the Stars. However, these feel-good experiences can be seen in other genre.   And it's not like everything has to be light hearted – remember the movie Taken! But while Taken may not say life is easy, strong-dad thrillers go down easy; offering a form of escapism all their own. 
 
So what other genre offer stress releasing effects to the crumbling middle class? Basically any Fantasy, Thriller, Prime-Time Drama, Suspense, Mystery, Humorous, Macabre, Creepy, Spellbinding, and Adult Situations shows you can find.   All of which has been used to describe Supernatural. For the record, is also been labeled as a Chase/Road Show, with themes of Missing Persons, and Sibling Relationships with strong family ties. Hal Erickson called it “essentially a male version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a few dashes of Scooby-Doo, The Hardy Boys and Route 66 tossed in.” (As a die-hard Supernatural fan, I object to the Scooby-Doo reference....but to each his own.) Anyway, as more and more people are living with sadness and despair, any TV or movie that offers a promise of hope, happiness, a fresh start, or new beginning has a lot of appeal. All of these are versions of escapism shows. The ultimate in escapism genre, and, thus one of the top-selling forms of entertainment, is horror. 
 
Before I diverge into the appeal of the horror genre, which I feel is important to Supernatural‘s ratings, I have to talk about escapism and it’s affect on people. There are many opponents of escapism, and those that feel it is important for humans to experience and live in reality, facing the consequences of life as they develop. There are also many proponents of escapism. Fantasy writers propose their fantastic universes in ways that promote creative thinking and problem solving. Escapism can help people more ably interact within reality and cope with some of the stresses of  life…and the greater the stress, the more people need relief from it, if only for a short time. When people are generally sad or depressed, focusing on happier times or brighter things is a form of escapism that offers a healthy alternative to a rather bleak reality. This form of escapism can be healthy when it allows the person to realign themselves and approach reality with a more positive outlook.
 
For years, science fiction programs have let people escape, and envision other worlds and what life might be within other realities. This has led to many discoveries within our own universe, and has enhanced reality of our world. Escapism can open doors and surpass sciences in many ways, and escapism that is based on individual creativity can be very important in terms of personality development and mental capacity.  And, in case any one is interested, the ultimate individual of escapism is Batman. In many ways, he is a more escapist figure than Superman, because he is just plain mortal like us, but his amazing training and intelligence turns him into an unstoppable force. His ‘power’ comes from a life time of hard work. The writers picked the right hero for Dean to identify with in ‘Bad Day at Black Rock’. 
 
As for horror genre…there are numerous reasons why that genre is so appealing as an escapism venue, ranging from tension, relevance, and unrealism… to ‘ striping us down to our essence’. The high quality, well-constructed, well-acted, and well-directed horror that leaves the audience spellbound, sitting on the edge of their seats, wanting the whole time to ‘close their eyes but knowing they don’t dare’ targets all generations and age groups which encompass the whole middle class. These intellectually structured horror shows explore relationships between humans, and between the natural and the supernatural. They tap into our fears of the dark, the unknown, the bazaar, the Devil, mortality, and simply being ignored. They frighten us with loss of control, and shock us with the realization that we never really had control to begin with. By doing so, they ‘reveal just a little bit more about us to us’….a good way to forget our problems. It also spans all genders, even though many devotees of horror are women, the targeted audience of relationship dramas.
 
From a purely evolutionary standpoint, avoiding dark places, attempting to understand the unknown, and finding ways to postpone death have survival value that may have been passed onto future generations through an evolutionary process. According to many psychoanalytic thinkers, universal fears make a horror genre more relevant. The fact is horror appeals to one of our most primal emotions - fear. Many feel the creep-factor is inherent within the human psyche, the opposite of our feelings of safety and comfort. The scary, and the macabre, have and will exist in horror as long as we have the ability to imagine it. And as long as the imagination can be tapped, we can and will forget reality for a while,. 
 
The last part of exploring Supernatural appeal has to include a discussion of the human psyche.
 
It's human nature to have empathy. That is, no matter what the circumstances are, we always feel the pain of others around us, whether in entertainment or in real life. As much as people want to see their experiences mirrored in entertainment, they also want to forget them. Some people feel a little bit of Schadenfreude is also involved, where people feel better about their lives while observing characters that have it worse than they do. People also like to indulge in a ‘Superman complex’ - that is, tapping their own inner hero by watching the onscreen valor of others. Loss of control in their daily lives is a large part of the despair in a recession. To see others with the ability to change their condition, especially using superpowers is a big draw in shows. Hummmm….where are Sam’s powers when you need them? I would have loved to used his powers to exorcize the demon I am SURE resides in my PI.
 
In addition, in a financially stressed economy, the first thing to suffer is the family unit. Most sociologists will tell you that the harder the economic times, the more domestic abuse, child abuse, alcoholism, and drug addiction will increase. Hence, strong family bonds sell well in recessions.  Stories of second chances and new beginnings are also particularly powerful in hard times.   
 
So how does all this apply to Supernatural? Is there a correlation between the economy and the drop in Supernatural viewers this year?
 
Yeah…I think there is. For me, the shows has the appeal of an A-one, high class horror escapism show dealing with superheroes, and that‘s what the boys are whether that’s the your name for them or not. The appeal of a common person rising above the impossible to defeat all odds will be a hit in any recession or depression. Their bond of strong family ties and family devotion, lost in season four and the first few episodes of season five, has been glimpsed on the horizon as returning…a good factor for a recession show. The return of Sammy’s powers wouldn’t hurt either.
 
Charlie Jane Anders author of “Escapism Is The Highest Form Of Art” said “….our most escapist works currently seem to fall neatly into three categories: superheroes, vampires and post-apocalyptic survivors. All of whom share a few categories that seem emblematic of our times: they're individualistic, they're special, and they're often at odds with a world that doesn't understand how special and great they are. In other words, they're the perfect heroes for a time when we're no longer involved in a colossal struggle like the Cold War, but instead are facing a crumbling middle class.” These are the shows that are most appealing and describe Supernatural to a tee. (On a side note: Hopefully we will not the boys as post-apocalyptic survivors in season six.)
 
Based on this information, and additional info I read from the web, I feel if the show was premiering in this economy with the episodes of seasons one, they would be an immediate hit, much like The Vampires Diaries are this year , and as they were in 2005. However, as the show progress into season four and five, so did the downward trend of the economy. As more and more families began to be affected, their appeal for a show that also hit darker times would have dwindled. If people want to see those worse off then themselves, the darker side of the series would have appealed to a much smaller group than when the show premiered. And I find it hard to believe that those families who did experience the darker side of life, would want to watch a show that would mirror their real lives on a weekly bases….especially lives that they would prefer to forget. If the series hoped to appeal to the “Recession Indifferent” and “Recession Insensitive” classes, those classes are said to watch different genre of shows completely, and they are also dwindling in numbers. 
 
It was, and still is, on a small network that found relationship horror shows directed at young aged women worked well. However, there is a much bigger audience available, and while the CW wants to target the young group, I think the Supernatural series would benefit from not limiting its scope. With the advent of science, people are living longer and the older generation is becoming a very large group. It also comprises a large part of the middle class, and they value culture and tradition.   Acknowledging women viewers older than the CW's audience could only help, and while I don’t know how the networks interact with their series, any show that increases is viewer audience should appeal to a network. 
 
There is a lot of information on these topics, and I’m sure I didn’t see it all. What research I did find, I tried to compile in this article, but everything here is open to different views and interpretations and while I tried to be unbiased, as a human, that is not going to happen.   I would love to hear your views  about the economy, and your personal experiences with what people like to watch.  
 
Current ratings of Supernatural (overall and in 18-49) still have it as the second best show on CW with a very good possibility of renewal for a season six. With the rise of the boys family bond, and all the good friends they are acquiring for their army, hopefully that will be a positive indication of an increase  in ratings in the future. Hope, happiness, prosperity and friends seems to sell in a recession.  Here’s hoping for the best in the rest of season five, and a very prosperous season six.