Thursday Thoughts – How much power do TV audiences have?

Fox has been on something of a killing spree of late. After cancelling 5 shows in as little as 2 days, you have to question whether channel bosses will still have anything to run by the time they’re finished.

Amongst the massacred was Brooklyn Nine Nine. The decision to call time on this much-loved cop show was met with shock and outrage from fans (myself included). Cries of disbelief rang out across social media and soon these turned into campaigns to get the show back. In the space of just 36 hours, the show has died, been buried, and then was resurrected by Fox rival, NBC.

This reinstatement of the Nine Nine raises the question of how much power audiences actually possess, especially when it comes to TV shows. With films, it’s all fairly clear cut – if the film makes enough money, you tend to get a sequel, whether you asked for it or not. With TV, it’s not quite the same kettle of fish, however there is obviously a correlation between audience numbers and show survival rates as one of the most common reasons for cancelling a show is low ratings. Quality doesn’t seem to be a real deciding factor here either, which means this selection process is quite unfair. Shows that are actual works of art are take from us far too soon, while others that are tripe at best go on forever purely because there’s a larger audience watching it.

However, it would seem that there is hope for those good shows that come to an untimely end. Resurrections do happen – they have now saved two shows that I hold very close to my heart (one being B99, the other being Ripper Street). And on both occasions, these decisions have been brought about by the actions their audiences have taken, mainly in the form of kicking up one hell of a fuss about some idiot’s momentary (but HUGE) lapse in judgement.

So, TV audiences have power, but exactly how much do they have? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what the answer is, but we definitely have a decent say in what makes the cut and what doesn’t. I don’t have the statistics for the Brooklyn Nine Nine revival handy, but I know that in the case of Ripper Street it took only 12,000 signatures on a petition to get Amazon to take the show on. In the grand scheme of things, 12,000 really isn’t a massive number either when you think about the 3.38million people that watched the show on average.

But here’s the thing – we are very spoilt for choice when it comes to what we watch on TV now. More so than ever before. There’s a lot of things to watch, but the actual audience size hasn’t increased as quickly, which in theory means that each new show and channel added stretches that audience thinner. Suddenly, 12,000 is a significant number of viewers for a channel to lose if it displeases them, and it’s also a significant number of viewers for a newer kid on the block to think about winning over. These two things coming together were ultimately what saved Ripper Street’s ass, and they will create similar dynamics in future that will save other shows. Why? Because in this world where everyone’s attention is being fought for constantly by at least 10 different entities, it’ll be the ones that give audiences what they want that come out on top. We as an audience must remember that we are the most important people to these TV stations, and also streaming platforms too. Without us, they have no purpose and therefore would cease to exist. NBC are giving the people what they want by saving Brooklyn Nine Nine, just as Amazon did when they saved Ripper Street. I do not doubt for a second that they will benefit from their decision, but regardless of however it turns out, they will be known to millions as the people who saved B99, and that kind of testimony packs a punch. And the only people who can provide that testimony are the audience, which is why they wield so much power.

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Kira Comerford

Film and TV lover with hopes to one day make my own projects for everyone to enjoy. Until then, I'm giving my thoughts on what I watch for inspiration.

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