Tuned In, TV Blog, Television Reviews, James Poniewozik, TIME

TV 101: They're Not TV Numbers. They're HBO Numbers.

John P. Johnson (2) / HBO

Afraid I'm not going to get around to a Tell Me You Love Me Watch this week--knee-deep in a deadline for TIME's "magazine," which is kind of like a large blog with staples in it. I'll try to catch up next week. In the meantime, here's the next-best thing: a post about ratings statistics!

Last week I (and a few of you) expressed surprise that HBO renewed TMYLM, with a Sunday-night viewing average of 910,000. (My surprise, at least, was pleasant.) Not long after I hit "post," I got an e-mail from HBO publicity contending that the show's cumulative audience--counting On Demand, DVR viewings and reruns during the week--was much bigger: 3.2 million.

I'm always skeptical when networks--HBO, Showtime, CNN, whoever--volunteer "cumulative" ratings (if I hold my arms up, I am cumulatively over 6 feet tall). But I asked HBO to offer the same stats for some other current HBO shows, for an apples-to-apples comparison. Here are the numbers (pardon my formatting ineptitude), and if nothing else, it's an interesting TV 101 insight into what HBO chooses to carry and why:

Big Love: 5.8 million (40% Sunday premiere / 60% other plays)
Entourage: 5.6 millionĀ (55/45)
The Wire: 4.4 million (40/60)
John from Cincinnati: 3.8 millionĀ (40/60)
TMYLM: 3.2 million (30/70)
Curb Your Enthusiam: 3.0 million (35/65)
Flight of the Conchords: 2.7 million (40/60)

Only 30% of TMYLM's viewers, according to HBO, watch the "live" debut. ("It's a show people want to watch privately, I imagine," the publicist theorized dryly. I also wonder if the fact that episodes air a week early On Demand encourages that format.)

JFC fans will note that your show was canned, with 600,000 more viewers. One possible reason: David Milch is a genius, and he notoriously spends like one--the show's production costs, and reported overruns, likely more than offset the edge in viewers over TMYLM, with all those economical interior sets. (And prosthetics aren't that expensive.)

And pay-cable networks program with different goals in mind: if you subscribe to watch only one show, your money still spends the same. So a show can justify itself by drawing the right audience--say, younger viewers for FOTC, or women for TMYLM (from the only female creator in HBO's historically Y-chromosome lineup). Arli$$ famously stayed on the air for years, with relatively few fans (none of them critics), because enough people told HBO they got the network for that show and nothing else. Go figure.

This concludes your Tell Me You Love Me post for the week. Sorry for the lack of nudity.

Reader Comments

Posted by Chaddogg
October 10, 2007

Important point, though - HBO doesn't have to worry about viewers "missing" commercial advertisements, etc. The entire model is built around subscribers - if they get a "cumulative" audience during a whole week of 3.2 million, it matters little to HBO when those viewers tune in, so long as they do, in fact, tune in.

In Demand, rebroadcasts, live broadcasts - it's all the same to HBO, because unless you HAVE HBO to begin with (i.e. subscribe) you won't be seeing those shows - having good audience numbers then for within a week of a show is all that matters.

Other non-pay networks can't get away with this - TiVo allows viewers to skip past the people paying the bills (advertisers), and thus the initial broadcast viewers (which more fully measures eyeballs in front of ads, arguably) becomes more important. A cumulative number might include viewers who watched A) commercial-less TiVo versions, or B) rebroadcasts on a different night with cheaper advertisers.

Posted by James Poniewozik
October 10, 2007

@chaddogg: really, it doesn't really matter if you watch at all, as long as you subscribe.

Or put another way: the amount of people watch is less important than the people who get HBO in order to watch *that show.* So the cumulative audience doesn't even matter so much as the number of people who might drop HBO if HBO dropped show X (or show X, Y and Z). Which is hard, if not impossible, to quantify and makes its programming decisions (and Showtime's) as much art as science.

Posted by Ronnie
October 10, 2007

I, for instance, will be dropping HBO the day after The Wire finale. The other shows I'll be content to catch up with on DVD.

Posted by Alex
October 10, 2007

I think this pretty much confirms HBO was bullshiting JFC fans when they proclaimed the series was cancelled due to "low ratings". Thank you for exposing their lies.

Posted by Chris Kw.
October 10, 2007

I have never watched TMYLM on Sunday at 9:00. It is a busy time slot. I watch the episodes ON Demand. So those stats make some sense to me. I would point out that for some of those shows, viewers might be watching more than once (Entourage for me). I have a hard time believing people would watch TMYLM more than once. So it sounds like those are realistic figures.

Posted by Gevag
October 10, 2007

John From Cincinnati was worth every dollar HBO invested in it and every dollar I have invested in HBO. However, it is time for me to reconsider my investments. Attention: HBO, No JFC, no money from me!

Posted by Tammy
October 10, 2007

I agree HBO has been bullshitting the fans long enought! HBO consider this if "ALL JFC FANS drop their HBO on the same day." Will our opinions have value in your eyes then? HBO can only tread water for a short time with 3.8 million requesting their HBO & Cine-a-max services disconnected (that's $20.+ a month per viewer)

TMYLM is a joke, soft core porn, this is my opinion. The critics had say I'll have mine. I have a 4 year old grandson in my home, why in this world, HBO airs a series at 8:00 pm CST on a Sunday evening? "TMYLM is pure smut," as my grown children say "TMYLM should air on "SKIN-A-MAX" (Cine-a-max) nic-nam

Posted by Dave
October 11, 2007

Hate it or love it (I loved it), I seem to remember reading in Variety that "Lucky Louie" got over 4 million a week in terms of cume. That's better than half of these shows.

Posted by litmus0001
October 11, 2007

HBO is getting dangerously close to leveraging their whole schedule on shows that I don't care if I see when they premier or on DVD a year later.

TMYLM is crap... I don't care how deep, introspective, and brave the creators tell us they are, it's a dumb show that I suffered thru 1 1/2 hours of, and I want that 90 min of my life back. I mean, come on... tear yourself away from your obsessions about your own genitalia and get on with life already. There's an entire world out there, and HBO decides people want to look at their own pants. I don't CARE who is and isn't screwing whom.

Honestly, the ONLY show on HBO that is keeping my subscription active is Real Time, and they only run that, what, 16 weeks out of 52?

I have 5 words that should strike fear into hearts of HBO programming execs: "Weeds", "Dexter" and "three months free".

Posted by miamia
October 12, 2007

i agree that who watches what on HBO doesn't matter regarding what they keep and what they throw away. look at Deadwood (over which i'm still in mourning).

Posted by Angelic
October 12, 2007

"TMYLM" has actually grown on me these last few weeks, which surprises me. Whiney middle class Americans have never been my cup of tea, but I find the struggle betweent the couples realistic and compelling. I'm even starting to sympathize with Jamie's story, which has gone from annoying to sadly poignant. HBO is in transition, but I have Showtime as well, and while I love "Weeds," I'm not ready to give up on HBO quite yet.

Posted by Joe
October 12, 2007

I used to have HBO back in the day, and then I dropped it after a while. And I got it specifically to watch "Band of Brothers". And I picked it up just to watch "From The Earth To The Moon". And I just recently added HBO so I could watch the new season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and the "Entourage".

Posted by Swannsonng
October 12, 2007

HBO has so lost touch with its subscriber base. I am willing to give any new show they put out a chance but I am sick to death of HBO introducing different,no-holds barred, new programming and then just cutting and running. I am ready to cancel, for sure. Long time since Oz, Six Feet Under, Deadwood, and the final straw was axing John From Cincinnati. A revolutionary way to watch television that pulled from the internet, philosophy, religion, politics, family, loss, redemption. I keep thinking what could have been and it infuriates me that a channel I pay for shorts me on the very things I am subscribing for. "Dexter" and "Weeds" are what I wait for now. I sure do miss Sunday nights without my must see TV.

Posted by mike
October 12, 2007

Let me echo several commenters in that the cancellation of Deadwood and JFC are only mildly compensated by the renewal of Flight of the Conchords. I loathe Entourage (immensely) AND TMTYLM.

I'd probably have warm memories of The Sopranos if they had cancelled it before the last season or two.

I cancelled HBO after Deadwood, re-upped solely for JFC and Flight of the Conchords and will cancel AGAIN at the conclusion of Curb.

... and to think that part of my subscription fees pay the salary of the idiots who decide all this.

Posted by bar
October 12, 2007

JFC started out good, but it devolved into unwatchable c**p. TMTYLM is an excelent show, worth the price of my HBO subscription. The most interesting thing about it is that it shows sex in such a way that makes it almost un-sexy. Although I do not watch every series running on HBO, the ones I do watch are made in a way that shows on other networks are not.

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Tuned In

James Poniewozik writes TIME magazine's Tuned In column, about pop culture and society. Tuned In, the blog version, is about the stuff we used to call "TV," whether it's in your living room, on your computer or--once the networks figure out the technology and line up the advertisers--in your dreams themselves.

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