TV Cancellation Logic

It’s that time of year again: time for the TV networks to decide what stays and what goes, while they introduce their upcoming shows. It’s often a tough period for die-hard TV fans, who oftentimes feel their favorite series was treated unfairly or mismanaged, but a lot of different factors go into the decisions. Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t vindictive TV executives out there that love to crush the spirits of TV fans.

First, let me plug IGN’s 2001 TV Show Obituary List. It’s a comprehensive list of all the network shows that are dead, Jim. If you haven’t been following all the cancellation news, that’s the place to go.

This year, FOX once again cut a lot of shows from their catalog. As usual, some fan favorites got the axe, including Lie to Me and Breaking In. IGN TV Editor Eric Goldman has a great blog post on how FOX shouldn’t be blamed for canceling shows, but praised for taking chances on them in the first place. As Goldman wrote:

I see some people inferring that FOX has some bizarre, specific agenda to greenlight interesting/cool series and then quickly cancel them, which is pretty silly. Instead, it’s notable that FOX continues to greenlight interesting/cool series.

I have to agree with him – FOX pushes the edge a lot more than most networks, but sometimes the shows just don’t pull in enough money.

And that’s where the ratings come in. The common outcry these days is something like, “The rating system is outdated! They don’t factor in online views or DVRs!” But actually they do (as best they can, at least). The problem is, the advertising revenue isn’t the same for all those platforms. I highly recommend this very informative blog post (“The Truth About TV Ratings) by Craig Engler, VP of Digital at the SyFy network. Here’s a great excerpt:

If you add up all the money you get selling ads in live and DVR viewing and stack that against all the money you bring in through every other kind of viewing method, you’d probably be lucky to get $1 in online revenue for the same number of views that would bring in $10 on TV. […] To look at it another way, if you add the income from 1 million TV viewers and 1 million online viewers, it gives you the same income as 1.1 million TV viewers would.

Despite the Netizens feeling like online viewing should weigh in heavily in a network’s decision to cancel a show, the money is still coming from TV, and if those numbers aren’t up to snuff, a series can’t survive. It will be interesting to see how advertisers change their pricing structures as online and mobile viewing continues to become more popular.


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