Ratings vs. buzz: The early season report card

In the age of social TV, separating the hits from the flops is more complicated than ever ... and maybe less necessary

Four weeks does not a TV season make, but it can give you a clear indication of what lies ahead.  What stands out this season so far is the gap between the Nielsen ratings and the social media buzz. Chatter on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are no guarantee that a show will score actual ratings. And a top-rated series via Nielsen does not always translate into social media attention. But the growing relevance on social media has added a new dimension to the definition of just what a success — or a miss — is.

Based on preliminary Nielsen data through Oct. 18, the total five-network average is 35.13 million viewers. Last year it was 37.49 million, which is a decline of 2.36 million viewers (or six percent). Results in the coveted adult 18 to 49 demographic totals a 9.6 rating/32 share, which compared to the same four-week period last year (10.6 rating/33 share) is a loss of 9% (in ratings). While not severe, erosion is still erosion and the broadcast networks at some point need to stop the bleeding. Excluding Fox’s "Empire," the established series are carrying this young TV season. And many of these shows are declining.

Since CBS started with a seven-season winning streak in total viewers, it is easy to predict continued dominance. The network is a lock for the total viewer trophy again in 2015-16 (and, at present, ranks a solid second in adults 18 to 49). Like last year, there are positives to be found on every night of the week but Saturday (which no network aggressively programs). But, when much of the Eye net’s audience stems from older-skewing crime solvers like the "NCIS" franchise, "Criminal Minds" and "Blue Bloods," the inherent problem is the lack of social media buzz.  

While CBS is home to five of the Top 10 shows in total viewers, the Twitter boards on not exactly on fire discussing its current lineup. Not a single new or returning Eye net show has made the Top 10 cut based on engagement, according to social business intelligence provider Shareablee (see charts below). What CBS needs is a new buzzworthy hit. To that end, the network is putting its faith in "Supergirl," which arrives on Monday, Oct. 26.  

Of course, "Supergirl" is unlikely to blow the doors off the Nielsen ratings. But the younger and more valued demos might choose to tune in, which means CBS may at least pick up some social media cred — something the network would no doubt value at this point.

NBC owes its current demographic dominance to "Sunday Night Football," of course. And "The Voice" remains a solid hit (both in the Nielsen ratings and socially), lifting Monday occupant "Blindspot" to the top rated new drama of this young season. So apparently, lead-in still matters. In the respectable category are the Chicago-themed dramas, "The Mysteries of Laura" and veteran "Law & Order: SVU." But comedy continues to ruffle the Peacock’s feathers — "Undateable" and "Truth Be Told" on Friday cannot compete. The revival of "Heroes" (now "Reborn"), while noticeable in social media and via DVR, and new drama "The Player" are question marks on Thursday.

"Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris" is certainly an admirable attempt to recreate the variety format, but NBC needs to focus on the next big sitcom hit. And burying its two chucklers on low-HUT level Friday (which could certainly inhibit social-media buzz) was an ill-fated maneuver.  

ABC claims prominence on the social media scale with three of the Top 10 shows based on engagement, according to Shareablee  ("Grey’s Anatomy," "Dancing With the Stars" and "Once Upon a Time"). The two-hour Wednesday comedy block and the Shonda Rimes-produced Thursday line-up are solid. "Quantico" just earned its renewal stripes, despite coming out of failing "Blood & Oil" on Sunday. And the success of truly atrocious new Friday comedy "Dr. Ken" out of compatible "Last Man Standing" proves that the critics don’t always matter.

On the flipside, ABC’s "The Muppets" — which had generated curiosity in social media — is sinking on Tuesdays, an overall weak night for the network. Meanwhile, once-beloved "Shark Tank" on Friday is losing steam, and Sunday remains soft. Maybe the sad results for Kermit mean the networks should dispense with the revivals in favor of original ideas.

Fox has only two shows on the entire line-up worth noting: Sophomore "Empire" is proof that broadcast nets can still have a breakout hit. And recent entry "Scream Queens," a bust according to Nielsen, stands well above any new show in social media, and No. 3 overall among any show on television, according to Shareablee. This is the new breed of a "hit" — and an example of why Nielsen could become antiquated.

The CW has never been one to generate much interest in the traditional ratings, so being buried in the distant No. 5 spot is not unusual.  But low Nielsen ratings generally translate into high percentages for the added DVR usage, and The CW remains a force in social media. On paper, "The Flash" and "Arrow" don’t look all the impressive, for example. But, socially, they remain superheroes (as does veteran "Supernatural," which has been declining according to Nielsen for years). With the arrival of "D.C.’s Legends of Tomorrow" in midseason all but a sure thing in the social world, sometimes a comprehensive theme is the right maneuver.

Primetime Nielsen Averages Sept. 21 – Oct. 18, 2015
(with percent change versus the comparable year-ago four-week period)

Total Viewers:11.62 million (- 3), NBC: 9.45 (- 5), ABC: 7.56 (-13), Fox: 5.11 (- 6), CW: 1.39 (-10)

Adults 18-49: 2.8 rating/9 share (- 7), CBS: 2.5/ 8 (- 4), ABC: 2.0/ 7 (-17), Fox: 1.8/ 6 (-10), CW: 0.5/ 2 (-17)

Adults 25-54: 3.4/10 (- 6), CBS: 3.3/ 9 (- 6), ABC: 2.5/ 7 (-14), Fox: 2.1/ 6 (- 9), CW: 0.6/ 2 (-14)

Adults 18-34: NBC: 2.0/ 8 (-13), CBS: 1.7/ 7 (no change), Fox: 1.5/ 6 (-12), ABC: 1.5/ 6 (-17), CW: 0.4/ 2 (-20)

Shareablee top 10 prime-time fall TV shows by engagement:
Sept. 21 – Oct. 18, 2015

Total Social Actions (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)

  1. "The Walking Dead" (AMC): 19.84 million
  2. "Empire" (Fox): 7.29 million
  3. "Scream Queens" (Fox): 6.62 million
  4. "American Horror Story: Hotel" (FX): 5.77 million
  5. "Grey’s Anatomy" (ABC): 5.30 million
  6. "Dancing With the Stars" (ABC): 4.49 million
  7. "Once Upon a Time" (ABC): 4.07 million
  8. "The Voice" (NBC): 2.98 million
  9. "Chicago Fire" (NBC): 2.70 million
  10. "Doctor Who" (BBC America): 2.68 million

Shareablee Top 10 New Primetime Series By Engagement:
September 21 – Octover 18, 2015

Total Social Actions (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)

  1. "Scream Queens" (Fox): 6.62 million
  2. "The Muppets" (ABC): 722,796
  3. "Heroes Reborn" (NBC): 502,385
  4. "Grandfathered" (Fox): 410,666
  5. "Rosewood" (Fox): 399,439
  6. "Quantico" (ABC): 362,124
  7. "Blindspot" (NBC): 418,318
  8. "Blood & Oil" (ABC): 317,476
  9. "Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris" (NBC): 287,538
  10. "Minority Report" (Fox): 145,419

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