Shows demand fresh look at rating system

There are certain shows that you just need to watch live — shows with extreme cliffhangers or addicting dramatic moments where DVR-ing them or waiting for the episodes to go on Hulu simply is not an option. However, it is possible — normal even — for people to be fans of shows that they do not watch live.

That does not mean that these shows are not entertaining dramas or sitcoms. More often than not, it just means that viewers are busy and prefer to watch the shows on their own time when it’s convenient for their schedules.

Innovative, funny, new shows are being cut short and not given a proper chance because of that, though. Meanwhile, other shows that have been going on for seemingly forever just seem to keep going (like the Energizer bunny or something).

The ABC family sitcom, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, is a prime example. The show, which was canceled because of initially low ratings, speaks to the hypocrisy of the ratings system on the survival of new television shows.

On “GetGlue,” a mobile app to track television shows, movies and sports, avid fans of Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23  commented on the cancellation with attitudes ranging from, “give these shows a chance to succeed before you (cancel them)” to “still watching my DVR episodes.”

James Van Der Beek, who played a version of himself on the show, made a valid point as to why if a show has low ratings, it should not be immediately be eliminated from the TV spectrum.

“I know most of you watched us on your own time and platform and that the competitive network scheduling game is irrelevant to you,” Van Der Beeks said in a BBC article. “But network TV is a business dictated by Nielsen ratings and while that’s an antiquated business model, it’s the only one they’ve got.”

Though it came too late to save the ABC family sitcom, Van Der Beek’s point has gained new momentum: The Nielsen Company, which supplies audience ratings, announced Thursday that it will start including data from streaming services like Netflix in its statistics starting in September.

It is about time. It’s clear that with new technology, the ratings systems needs to be reexamined. However, though there are high hopes for the company’s pending system updates, the fact remains that there are extensive problems regarding these ratings — foremost the fact that the numbers still will not take into account all the online viewers who are binge watching.

Many viewers, especially those in college, watch television episodes online (legally or illegally, the latter a sad truth). Those fans do not get counted in the ratings game and are crushed when their shows get canceled, as is visible in fan blogs.

Ringer, another show that fell victim to the Nielsen ratings, aired 22 shows in its first and only season in 2012. Ringer had secret twins and murders and a fantastic cast including the dynamic Sarah Michelle Gellar, who superbly portrayed two characters. The season one average ratings were 1.82 million viewers, which was higher than the last three seasons of Gossip Girl. But because it didn’t have the cash that Gossip Girl had built up over the years, Ringer was axed while the long-running and arguably dried-up Gossip Girl continued to air.

Gossip Girl’s U.S. viewership had continuously diminished, with the last season receiving, on average, fewer than one million viewers. Despite its decreasing numbers, the show was still called back for that last season. So why did Gossip Girl get a whopping six seasons, while Ringer or Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, which had equivalent ratings, were both cut?

It’s quite possibly because TV creators and executives are selfish. They saw the chance to extend air time on a franchise that previously garnered fantastic critical reception and high ratings, and so they decided to continue on with it, in hopes of monetary gain.

Granted, executives could be worried about syndication — the ability to sell the rights to another station to be broadcasted for reruns (100 episodes is the usual number used), but that should not undermine the start of interesting, unique new shows. And also, Gossip Girl had already reached that number before the last season, anyway.

Gossip Girl is not a lone example. Many long-running television shows are kept on past their prime to the detriment of quality, becoming extremely contrived and outrageous as the writers try to find ways to keep the show going a little bit longer for just a few more seasons. Meanwhile, new and interesting shows are not even given the chance to flourish or gain the following they could truly find given the opportunity.

Maybe it’s time to not just alter or add to the Nielsen ratings but to reinvent them and find a way to not just count how many people watch the original broadcast on a standard TV, but instead, measure the legitimate fan base.

For the sake of Van Der Beek and television in general, it’s time to update with the technology and the media ubiquity. Each college student who watches TV on “Project Free TV” is a fan going unnoticed.

If nothing else, it’s time to look at a broader fact: Ratings aren’t everything.


Mollie Berg is a freshman majoring in communication. Her column “Mollie Tunes In” runs Mondays.

1 reply
  1. Eden L.
    Eden L. says:

    I enjoyed your article, though I have some concerns with the examples used. The ABC show “Don’t Trust the B-” had many problems that lead to its demise, not just low viewership. Three out of the four networks had sitcoms lined up at Tuesday at 9pm. The comedy audience cannibalized itself, leading to the cancellation of both “B-” and “Ben and Kate”. Most of America just ended up watching CBS.
    The change in the Nielsen ratings is a huge gain for networks, but it is just a small bandage on a larger problem. The Nielsen box is only available for 12,000 families. The sample range is too small to have a real chance of capturing what Americans watch. Nielsen has evolved to now examine Twitter trends, DVR views 3 and 7 days after live airing. Illegally watching something online makes less of an impact than the TV executives think. Look at the Netflix bump. “The Walking Dead” garnered 12 million viewers recently, mostly from new viewers discovering the show online.
    On developing a new series, it is cheaper to maintain an old show than start with a new show. Production costs, union mandates and pay bumps per season cause the networks to support aging shows to syndication and beyond. Even a third season season would be more viable than a second season, or if it has a notable star. “B-” was cancelled even though “Happy Endings” is moving to Fridays. “Ben and Kate” was cancelled even though it has the same ratings as “The Mindy Project” but Mindy Kaling is more known to TV viewers than Oscar-winning Nat Faxon.
    So, if college students are watching shows online, it has little effect on favorite shows. At least we’ll have the Internet.

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