This year we’ve seen several programs with passionate (and perhaps even rabid) fanbases get cancelled either partially or completely due to “low ratings”. Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Expanse come to mind as two prime examples, and while the rating metric has controlled what television content gets approved, renewed or cancelled by networks for decades, that appears to be changing — and quickly.
After five seasons, FOX decided to cancel “highly acclaimed but low-rated” Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and NBC promptly picked it up the very next day — indicating that NBC clearly saw value in a program with a dedicated fanbase and ratings were not a concern.
The news swept across social media as fans rejoiced, and NBC has since added additional episodes to the upcoming mid-season order. It’s interesting to note that where one major broadcast network (FOX) used ratings a justification to cancel a beloved show, another (NBC) saw an opportunity to capitalize on content that resonates with viewers, despite what the ratings were saying.
“We are in a new era of media and it’s time to retire the Nielsen television metric. While it undoubtedly served its purpose, it no longer fully captures how to successfully measure an audience in today’s landscape.”
– David Levy, Turner President (May 2018)
The Expanse is a particularly interesting case study for several reasons: It aired on a relatively obscure network (SyFy), the show’s premise is distinctly niche (futuristic police space-drama), and it has nearly-perfect fan reviews (Seasons 1-3 are at 76%, 95% and 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively).
SyFy did not renew The Expanse following its third season, which had experienced a ratings drop from season one (distribution limitations were also a factor). Backlash was swift and vocal — social media efforts to #SaveTheExpanse erupted, and fans gathered nearly 100,000 online petition signatures to help find a new home for the program.
Two weeks later, Amazon announced it had picked-up The Expanse for additional seasons (Jeff Bezos happens to be a big fan). Again, Amazon saw value and potential where SyFY did not, and now The Expanse will air on a streaming platform with its own proprietary viewership measurement process.
Samba TV measured viewership throughout the third season of The Expanse to analyze trends during the rollercoaster ride of being cancelled and renewed mid-season, and the effect it has on viewers.
According to Samba TV’s analysis, viewership increased immediately following the cancellation announcement, perhaps due to an influx of first-time viewers, and then began to decline following Amazon’s announcement. This could be a trend of casual viewers tuning-out, or viewers without Amazon Video leaving the show because they know they won’t be able to access future seasons.