Don’t panic: Good advice for galactic hitchhikers and the CBC

CBC’s early fall numbers are in and they don’t look good.

First the caveats:

  • Ratings are only one metric of success (albeit one advertisers and therefore networks care about)
  • Reported numbers are overnights, meaning they don’t include people who watch later, and are statistical estimates (though this is true for every show on every network)

The cold, hard truth remains: CBC’s numbers are low. Their stalwart performers such as Murdoch Mysteries and Heartland are lower than usual. Shiny new shows have debuted lower than the shows they replaced.

It’s fall, which means American shows with their giant marketing machines are dominating the Canadian networks, as they usually do in the fall.

Comparing apples to apples, the scripted numbers are just lower on CBC this fall, a fall some of us hoped would see the emergence of a new CBC, with a new leader at the helm and some risky new programming peeking out amid the familiar faces.

But that’s the thing about risks, right? They’re risky.

Murdoch Mysteries was earning 1.4 million at the same time last year. This year, in its 8th season, it’s hovered just above and below the million mark. But keep in mind this year it’s against newcomer Gotham, currently the #6 show in Canada and more than doubling Murdoch’s numbers. Last year it was against 9-year-old Bones, which earned only a couple hundred thousand more. Murdoch can handle the competition and still get around a million viewers to watch the night it airs.

Not every dip is so easily explainable by the fact that viewers are first watching the sexy new show everyone’s talking about. Mercer and 22 Minutes are up against  quiet behemoth NCIS, as they were before. I suspect they’ll recover at least somewhat as the season goes on, and they’re still reaching more people than CBC’s imports and new series.

The Honourable Woman and Janet King didn’t make a big splash. The latter didn’t make even a little splash. Canada’s Smartest Person seems to be a hit in the app store but not necessarily in its broadcast timeslot.

More disappointing is how CBC’s dark, serialized Western Strange Empire is faring. 319,000 in the first week, 312,000 in the second. I’m not surprised; Intelligence is the last dark, serialized drama on CBC I remember and it was cancelled for low ratings. So were the lighter, less serialized Cracked and Arctic Air, yet they got better numbers.

But Strange Empire seemed to signal a CBC that was willing to take that cable-like leap again, eyes wide open to the difference in tone and structure from anything else on their network. They had to know that they have no ideal lead-in, and that the captive audience watching their promos may not be the audience who would watch a show that’s more Deadwood than Heartland.

They have  sci-fi co-production Ascension coming up as well as The Book of Negroes miniseries, both of which may or may not fit into an overall vision for a new brand that moves away from more populist fare to shows a private broadcast network likely wouldn’t touch.

But populist fare is … popular. And one show doesn’t make a brand. And most new shows fail. And sometimes the value of cachet balances out the value of ratings. And always on CBC the season will be allowed to air in full without the threat of cancellation, and I would rather have one season of wonderful than a syndication package of nothing special.

For CBC to move toward a new programming vision, if that’s what they’re attempting to do, they’ll need the time to make that transition and possibly the will to sacrifice ratings in the short term.

To mix my movie metaphors: patience, grasshoppers. Don’t panic.


3 thoughts on “Don’t panic: Good advice for galactic hitchhikers and the CBC”

  1. You are way too optimistic. The numbers for Strange Empire are stressful. I almost wish ratings weren’t published because then I could just enjoy the show (and others) in blissful ignorance.

    1. Optimistic about what? It will finish out its season because it has to. I’m not optimistic about a season 2 but if CBC thought one show was going to turn things around; or that it was going to do a lot better than Intelligence amid shows that are as unlike it as can be, they were dreaming. The point being if they want to turn the network around it will take time and more than one show.

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