About Those Numbers

So Bones moved to Friday this week, and it went about the way I expected it to. The show lost viewers (of course it did, hello, if it was likely to pull in the same numbers as on Monday, Friday wouldn’t be an issue at all, would it?), and fans reacted in a variety of ways to the ratings results, from confused, to cautiously optimistic, to disappointed, to raging lunacy.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will:  Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Everyone. And no one has the right to try and force their views on anyone else.  What I’m doing here is sharing my opinions.  Do I think I’m right? Yes. Do I think these interpretations are right? Of course.  Could I be wrong on all counts? Absolutely.

In the western world, at least, part of being an educated adult is (or should be) the ability to interpret data, form opinions, and, when appropriate, defend those opinions. Part of that process is deciding who to trust for credible information. So you read this, decide whether it makes sense or not, and go from there. If you think I’m nuts, or naive, or too trusting – that’s fine. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind here.  (But rude comments will be deleted. Hey, it’s my blog.)

Here’s an assumption I make:  There are no experts on the internet. I don’t mean no one knows anything, or that someone knowledgeable in some field or other couldn’t share that information. But by definition, the web is a place of anonymity where anyone can say anything, and there’s no way of knowing if it’s true. No matter who someone says they are, or what they say their background is, all we can really do is evaluate their words, hopefully in the context of other words, written by other people who might know what they’re talking about. 

Disclosure: I am not an expert on TV. But I read. I read a lot. I listen to people who, for whatever reason, seem to be in a position of knowing what they’re talking about, particularly those who express their views in an articulate manner. I compare what they say with what others are saying, and I form opinions based on that. Some of these people are undoubtedly wrong, at least some of the time, meaning my conclusions may be faulty.  That’s the risk we take when deciding who and what to believe.

Where TV is concerned, I read articles posted by a full range of entertainment websites (i.e., professional sites like Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and EW, to sites started by fans.) I read about all TV, even shows I don’t watch, because all of it gives me insight..

One of the things I began noticing a few years ago is that all those sites – again, ranging from ‘professional’ to ‘good-hearted amateur’  – interpret ratings differently. I’ve seen the exact same numbers proclaimed a ‘solid win’ on one professional site, and ‘worrisome for the network’ on another.

I don’t know what that means, or why two supposedly professional sites (experts, if you will) interpret the same data so differently. But it leads me to believe that while the numbers are objective, their meaning is not.

So who gets to decide what the numbers mean? Well, I know a few fans who say they do. That’s their prerogative, but I don’t agree. If the meaning of ratings numbers varies, it seems to me that the people who should decide what they mean are those who will use them to make decisions, namely the networks. 

Not that the universe always pays attention, but here’s what I want: I want to see Bones get a tenth season. I loved season eight, and I’ve loved what we’ve gotten so far of season nine. Yes, I know how amazing getting to nine seasons is for a TV show. I don’t care. I’m greedy.

All other things being equal (i.e, that the actors want to continue making the show), the people who will decide whether a season ten happens or not are the executives at Fox. I presume, since they’re running a business, that that will rest primarily on whether the show is making a profit for them, and whether or not they have other shows that might make them more of a profit.

To summarize: everyone on the planet appears to have an opinion about what ratings mean, and people who appear to be equally intelligent and in the know often say they mean different things. Since as far as I know the only entity who will make a decision about season 10 is Fox, I’ve made the choice to be primarily interested in how the network interprets ratings numbers. They know their schedule, they know how much it costs them to make shows, they know how many people need to watch any given show for it to return a profit.

My choice, to pay attention to what Fox thinks, deeply offends some self-proclaimed fan experts. I’m sorry for that, but it’s the way things work. They’re entitled to their opinions, I’m entitled to decide whether or not I agree with them.

The biggest issue seems to be why I believe Fox is a credible source for interpreting ratings. Couldn’t anything they say just be a spin? That’s a valid question. Of course they could lie. They could tell us they’re thrilled with the ratings, and then cancel the show in February. (Why they’d bother doing that is baffling to me, but I acknowledge its possibility.)

Here’s the thing, though: I watched Fringe. Every Saturday, Preston Beckman (aka @maskedscheduler on Twitter), the Fox executive for programming at the time, would post the ratings for the night before. Never, not once, did he try to spin the numbers. They were what they were. If he was disappointed, you could tell.

I also watched The Finder. Same thing. No one was trying to make the ratings more than what they were (and that was not only Mr. Beckman, but also Hart Hanson.) They could have tried to spin them. They didn’t.

This means that, yes, I trust them. If it’s bad, they may not trumpet it to the world, but they’re not going to make it something that it’s not. And if it’s good, they’ll say so. There were no surprises for me in The Finder’s cancellation.

So, yesterday, while I was being snarked at by some fans for not accepting their view of ratings as the right one (namely that Friday’s numbers were a train wreck of epic proportions), this is what people associated with the show or Fox were saying on Twitter, followed by my (possibly completely wrong) interpretations:

Preston Beckman: “Bones had 5,131,000 viewers last night. Thanx for watching.”

He didn’t add interpretative comment one way or the other. To me, this means one of two things: the ratings are within the realm of what he was expecting, or the ratings are lower than he’d hoped for, but he knows the end result isn’t in yet. 

While I’m discussing Mr. Beckman’s reaction, I’ll include Joe Adalian, a writer/TV analyst for New York Magazine’s Vulture. Why? Because Beckman respects him and recommends him as a solution to the mess of contradicting takes on ratings.  On Friday, he said:

“If u want 2 avoid ratings analysis seasickness on Twitter then u should #FF @TVMoJoe He’ll tell u all u need to know without u puking.”

This is what Joe said about Bones’ ratings:

BONES averaged a 1.2 A18-49 in its Friday debut. Second in timeslot, behind only Undercover Boss.

Others were interpreting the ratings differently, but since he didn’t retract or modify the comment, I’m going with it.

Dean Lopata, (@DLoIndustries) a producer/writer on the show, said this: “I’m only a pencil monkey, but for scripted 8pm on Friday, it looks like we did good.”  He then noted that DVR ratings matter, as well.

Of all the people I’m quoting here, Dean’s probably the one least in a position to interpret the numbers (as he acknowledges) but still, he’s in the TV business, and ratings, these in particular, are tied to his employment. I’m going to assume that means he’s not stupid; I’m also going to assume if he knew the numbers were a complete disaster, he wouldn’t say they weren’t. What would be the point?

Gaude Paez Morose, (@GaudeP) another Fox executive: “Bones dropped in its Friday premiere, but improved on FOX’s prior average @ 8pm Fridays by +28% in Total Viewers.”

Straight up? I don’t know what ‘dropped in its premiere’ means. Either this is a simple acknowledgement for the fans that yes, the ratings on Friday were down from Monday, or it means that they were hoping for higher numbers.

I tend to think it’s the former, because ‘dropped’ implies comparison to me, that the numbers are down in respect to some other numbers, though I don’t think Fox was expecting the same numbers on Friday as the show was pulling in on Monday, as that doesn’t make any sense to me. However, it’s possible that the other numbers she has in mind are what they were hoping for, and that these numbers are down in comparison to that.

(See? I won’t lie and automatically make something sound better than it is when I don’t know what it means. But I won’t go the other direction, either.)

But regardless of what the first part meant, the latter is unambiguous to me: from Fox’s viewpoint, the show gave them something they didn’t have before.

A moment later, she followed with: But we need the rest of our Bones fans to tune in on Fridays…Or at least watch on DVR over the wknd! Let’s get these #s up together.”

Back to the importance of the DVR, in other words.

So my full takeaway from it is the ratings weren’t terrible, weren’t wonderful, and that what happens with DVR is really important. I don’t claim to know what they were hoping for from the live numbers, but, IMO, part of the point of this experiment (which is how I’ve always considered the Friday move) is about the changes DVRs have made to TV watching, so it makes sense to me that they’d be waiting to see what those numbers are.

The other thing I keep being hit over the head with by angry fans is if the move to Friday were anything other than the Worst Thing Ever, Hart and David and the others wouldn’t have been so obviously disappointed by it.

So let me say…they’re right to be disappointed.  Every move results in fewer viewers for them, plus, no one is arguing that fewer people watch live TV on Friday night. Not everyone has DVRs, and not everyone makes a point of following a show to a different time slot or night. (Heck, apparently a lot of people don’t change the channel at all, which is why the time slot after a high ratings show is coveted.)

The writers and actors pour so much of themselves into the show that they want as many people as possible to see it.  They deserve that, and it drives me a bit nuts that more people don’t watch it. 

So anything that’s going to result in fewer people seeing the show is disappointing to them, not because they’re afraid it means the show will be canceled, but because they work damned hard and want people to see the work they’re justifiably proud of.  Hart and the others were bummed when the show was moved from Thursday to Monday, too, for the same reason.

But the move is what it is. People watch Blue Bloods on Friday; they watch Grimm. They’ve watched Bones in every other time slot it’s been in, so it’s reasonable for Fox to want to see if they’ll follow it to Friday.  In my opinion, it’s impossible to say whether that’s happened or not, not just in terms of DVRs, but even that it might take a few weeks for people who will go to the trouble of tracking it down to do so.

(If I had the time, I’d research the ratings from previous moves to see if dips are common when the show first moves, only to come up later. Alas, I don’t have time for that particular project today.)

I am very, very aware that all of this is just my take on how others are interpreting the ratings.  But I don’t see any spinning going on there. I see people acknowledging that it’s not all bad, that they’d hoped for better, and that DVR ratings are important and still a factor.

The rest is all wait and see.


6 thoughts on “About Those Numbers

  1. US viewers never take into account when discussion of cancellation arises is that Bones sells so well in the international market and is highly rates in a range of countries. The profit from selling a popular programme for 9 series (so far) must provide Fox with a very good return. Surely this would be taken into account when Fox makes a decision about the programme’s future.

    • Yeah, that’s completely valid…for the studio. My understanding (possibly wrong!) is that the studio that owns the show and the network that airs it are not the same thing. So the studio that owns it makes money off of international viewings and so on, but the network doesn’t, I don’t think. They make money off the advertisers. (I believe this is why, very occasionally, you’ll hear stories of a show being dropped by one network and then picked up on another: studio and network aren’t the same thing.)

  2. I’ve never commented on ratings on the board because I don’t know anything about how this works on American television. After the ratings for the second Bones episode airing on Friday I just wanted to thank for your effort in trying to tell people to look at this move in a rational way. As you said all along it might be better to have a winner on Friday night! It is very satisfiying to see Bones winning its time slot.

  3. Pingback: Perspective is Everything | Lunatic Worlds

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