Do Networks Ignore Sci Fi Fans?

Published 7 years ago by

nielsen weblogo Do Networks Ignore Sci Fi Fans?Have you ever wondered why some TV shows are canceled due to supposedly low ratings when it seems like they have a strong following? Sometimes there are obvious reasons – like when CBS scheduled Jericho up against Fox’s American Idol, or Journeyman possibly being a victim of bad timing with the writers’ strike and too many reality show hitting the networks.

One of the systems that has the biggest impact on what we get to watch on television is called the Nielsen Ratings. It was founded by Arthur Nielsen in 1923 and through statistical sampling measurements, extrapolates what audiences are watching across the country. This information is important to advertisers who pay dearly for much coveted time slots in which they know the audience is watching.

Neilsen Ratings measure what programs selected “families” actually sit down to watch. This tells me that networks tend to rely on the black and white data, and do not consider what the “unnoticed” audience watches. Neilsen families are the ones who made shows like 60 Minutes, Seinfeld, ER, Survivor, CSI & American Idol the top rated shows in their respective time slots. I’m no expert, but this sounds like the folks that enjoy these shows may not be sci fi fans. Sci fi is a smaller niche, but fans of sci fi shows tend to be extremely loyal and dedicated to a series.

A case in point is an impromptu survey I came across on They had a list of shows that have been canceled recently and asked readers for their thoughts.

Of eight canceled shows, the readership wanted 4 of them back.

The survey said they should leave Bionic Woman dead. (Imagine that… ask Vic, he’ll tell ya about that wonderful, plotless show.) They also thought that Cavemen should remain dead. Oh Lordy, not just leave it – bury it and delete all the media it’s recorded on. Leave the cavemen to the Geico commercials, which really are very funny and have even themselves taken a pot shot at the now canceled series.

Among the shows they wanted brought back was one of my newest addictions: Friday Night Lights. A gritty series focusing on a rural town’s high school football team and the challenges that teams teens face.. One of the other shows they wanted to see return is Journeyman. (Ah, there is some sanity out there and Vic is not alone.)

Knowing a TV series’ demographics has it’s merit, but Nielsen’s “sampling methods” have been (rightly) criticized since the selected families know who they are, defeating the premise of double blind testing. Neilsen ratings also refuse to count recorded programming for later viewing as part of its sampling methods. This used to apply to VCRs (remember those?) but now includes Digital Recording Devices like Tivo. This does make some sense, since we skip commercials watching recorded shows, but it could spur advertisers to think of more creative ways to put ads in front of viewers while the show is on.

I’m optimistically pessimistic that someday statistics from a more thorough random sampling of the viewership will happen and network execs might just use their gut feelings about shows.

Until then, it may be some time before the studios recognize that they are missing an important segment of the population: the sci fi appreciating fan.

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  1. Its high time the Nielsen monopoly came to an end. Don’t we have better technology now? Why isn’t a ratings meter built into all new cable boxes, for example, and anonymous data on viewing sent back to the cable systems over their own network? 60% of the country subscribes to cable. Data collected by the cable companies would seem to be better and more accurate than the tiny sliver of selected households that Nielsen monitors.

  2. I Miss Firefly :(

  3. I’m still pissed they canceled the Blade tv series. It wasn’t bad at all and seemed to be pretty popular. Hopefully enough people buy the Season on DVD to talk them back into it.

  4. What really stinks about the whole Network Reality TV movement is it’s not ‘real’, it’s basically so they don’t have to pay actors. “You stir some s**t on our show, we pay you with 15 minutes of fame.” It’s not enteraining, it’s not revolutionary, it’s not good for society, and it’s definitely not good for Panda’s sanity!!!

    Show some creativity! Stop pumping the networks with this crap, stop with the remakes of old movies or turning 60′s TV shows into movies, and write something thoughtful that we, your loyal viewers, can enjoy for cryin-out-loud!

    Firefly and Blade are two perfect examples of good series that weren’t really given a chance. Now the choice is back to Big Brother or Saved By The Bell re-runs. At least BSG may finish out the final season.

  5. You hit it on the head Panda – cheap labor, very little writing, and in some cases, wives of studio heads hosting the show.. oo, I better not go there.

    And yes, we better look at figuring out how to fix it because Panda is talking about herself in the 3rd person…

  6. Bruce Simmons, great article!!

    Hardly bunk.

  7. Why is Nielsen even relevant these days? With the internet in most every household, there should be some way for a website to be able to track viewing habits of audiences so we can get decent shows back on the air. I am a big fan of Firefly, and after watching the DVD version of the series, cannot believe that this outstanding show was canceled, yet we have to endure garbage like “Flavor of Love”, “Celebrity Rehab”, “Keeping up with the Kardashians” , and all of the other awful reality shows currently out there. Nielsen only tracks Nielsen households. A website would be able to track every household who chooses to participate. Seems to me this would provide a more accurate picture of current TV preferences.

  8. Yea Zipper I guess the Real World was kinda first. It never received the sucKcess that survivor did however. Survivor was the juggernaut of Prime time reality. Then we got Idol and Dancing with whatever. Then it just took off into crap tv orbit.

    I have to admit that I don’t have cable, Tivo or even a netflix account. The only tv shows I wacth these days are MLB baseball, 24, Prison Break, SNL and recently the Sarah Connor show. I have soo many dvd’s and dvd’s of tv shows I havnt watched yet that I’m good for about 2 years.

    Reality shows arnt even tv to me there some sort of toxic mutation.

  9. I disagree that sci-fi fans get the shaft.

    Terminator sarah chronicles is doing awesome business and gets a lot of viewers.

    On top of that this show delivers more in terms of action and thrills than all other sci-fi programs combined.

  10. Scooter… as the first of those *ahem* ‘young-uns who said maybe it was due to sci-fi fans being the type to download DVDs,’ I think you’re missing the overall point of the post, which also included specific mention of DVDs and even VHS.

    I’m 28, by the way, and well aware that downloading came long after sci-fi TV started getting the shaft.

    My point was that sci-fi fans in general are more into buying and keeping, hence why department stores were always chock-full of ‘Star Trek’ videos, while TV would barely touch the shows. Besides, I interpreted the article more as a current issue, given how much more sci-fi/genre TV is being produced.

    I mean, isn’t it blatantly obvious why sci-fi got the shaft prior to this decade? The cost alone would be through the roof and not worth the investment if advertising dollars can go toward medical dramas.

    As for ‘reality’ TV – I’ve got to admit, I love some of it. ‘Survivor’ and ‘Amazing Race’ are brilliant game shows, ‘Big Brother’ (here in Australia) is a fun social experiment (or was before it replaced interesting individuals with dopey twenty-something bimbos and surfer dudes) and shows like ‘Idol’ can be a bit of a laugh for anyone keeping their finger on the pulse of pop culture. The word ‘reality’ is taken way too literally, I think, since many of the shows are just a more textured, modern take on outdated game shows, lifestyle programs and things like ‘American Bandstand’. But – yes – it’s become silly and 95% of the crap needs to go.

  11. Yea Panda I totally agree. Reality shows are worse but the slew of remakes sickens me.

    Did you guys know that Universal just signed a 6 year deal with Hasbro to turn their board games into movies.
    So we can expect to see movie versions of CandyLand, Battleship, Clue, Ouiji board and Monopoly. Maybe if were unlucky will get a movie version of Hungry Hungry Hippos… Battle Bots might be good. (What am I saying?)
    After a few of these films I’ll be begging for a Aliens vs Predator Requiem sequel.

  12. Unfortunitly Bruce reality tv is thriving right now.
    Fix it, the studios don’t see anything wrong with it.

    Until the hordes of mindless neilsen scum stop watching the shows like American Bingo night and american idol were doomed to watch our dvd’s and remember the good ole days.

  13. David you would be surprised how many folks don’t have internet. Once you leave the big cities and get out in the country internet is scarce.
    Alot of people over the age of 60 don’t have or even care about the Web.

  14. I wouldn’t say ALL of Sci-fi gets shafted, but Firefly certainly did. Whether or not you’re a fan of the show you certainly can’t argue that FOX never gave it a chance.

  15. Why do networks ignore Sci Fi fans? Advertising.

    Advertisers want viewers that can be swayed by a 30-second emotional appeal. Most Sci Fi fans are too “logical”.

  16. Jojo I agree that Connor Cronicles is real good but I wonder how it would stack up in real tv season?
    Just a reminder gang the season finale of Terminator, the Sarah Connor Cronicles is on tonight!!!!!

  17. I’m sorry but this article does not make a whole lot of sense. First of all your understanding of the neilsen system is flawed; there is no one group of families that represent the ratings for whole of America. Nielsen families are changed every few months and the selection process is completely random. You say that this audience has made shows like 60 Minutes, Seinfeld, ER, Survivor, CSI & American Idol #1 shows in their timeslot well, the same audience has also made shows Like LOST and Heroes ratings blockbusters. I work for one of the big 4 networks and the problem is not the the networks but the content of these shows. Today scifi is given more chance on network tv then ever before. After the sucess of LOST networks have been greenlighting Sci-fi shows left right and center. It is just that these shows themselves are not good enough.

    And I don’t buy any excuse that comes from Journeyman, I’m sorry but the fans of that show have no legitimate argument in crying foul about the treatment of that show. That show was given the best treatment NBC it could give. I mean come on, it was given the post-Heroes timeslot which was one of top rated show on NBC at that time, it was also given a decent amount of time to find an audience and allowed to air all its episodes. I personally did not like the show and the critics were at best lukewarm about it. I feel that scifi fans are like Star Trek fans, they accept and enjoy crap just because they are glad that scifi and it is being made

    Like I said before the problem is not the networks but the shows themselves. Yes sometimes the networks do screw up the shows (like the Jericho example you mentioned, a show which started with strong ratings but then lost the momentum after a ridiculously long hiatus) but more often then not it is the shows themselves that are to blame. A lot of these shows are given ample opportunity: NBC gave Journeyman the post-Heroes timeslot and ABC gave Invasion the post-Lost timeslot which are the best timeslots any scifi show could ever hope for, but still those shows failed, that does not signify lack of support from the network but the lack of appeal of the shows themselves. I thought Bionic Woman was absolutely atrocious and even though I really wanted to like Terminator but gave up on it after the 4th episode; the story is just so bland I mean, there is no sense of mystery, there is no sense of intrigue and due to budget constraints the action is very mediocre. Honestly the only scifi shows that I really give a damn about are LOST and Heroes. Even bad episodes of Lost and Heroes are better then anything on tv. I mean the worst episode of Lost (“Jack’s tattoo’s episode) is miles better then the best episode of Bionic Woman. JJ Abrams is developing a new show for next season which looks like it could be the next big Sci fi hit

  18. I’ve gotta admit… Karl makes some extremely good points and – for the most part – I totally agree.

    It does often seem to be the case that support for sci-fi TV comes from people who’d accept almost anything. But, if that’s the case, it’s highly unlikely those same people would have the insight to see the forest for the trees.

    It’s human nature to think of ourselves as more worthy and important than we may actually be.

  19. I guess it all comes down to personal opinion and it’s a good thing sites like Screen Rant exist for people to express them, eh? ;o)

    Still… as much as it frustrates me to see ‘dumb humour’ films like those from the Scary Movie team do well… it’s a bit rich to suggest the audience is “wrong” for liking this stuff or that their taste is lacking. There is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to entertainment – just differences of opinion.

    As an awesome lecturer once taught me: never underestimate the lowest common denominator.

  20. “Nielsen families are changed every few months and the selection process is completely random.”

    Yes, and those same random families are responsible for keeping crap on the air like “Survivor” and “Big Brother” year after year, as I mentioned above. Look at many of the lowbrow sitcoms that flourish, heck, don’t many people here consider most of what’s on TV (with the exception of what’s been noted in this thread) to be utter garbage?

    That’s what our “random” Neilson families help keep on the air.

    The average person has lousy taste and will accept almost anything when it comes to film and TV, so I think a big part of the problem is that those who actually recognize quality are in the minority. Slice that down further by including only those in that group that enjoy sci-fi and then yeah, I can see how the numbers won’t support a series.

    Think I’m being a jerk? Many of the replies I receive when I give a lousy movie or TV show the review it deserves rake me over the coals.

    Need more evidence?

    I’m telling you, we’re headed for the world shown in Mike Judge’s film “Idiocracy.”

    Fortunately those are the exception rather than the rule here at Screen Rant. :-)


  21. It’s time the Nielsen system was updated. The Nielsen families do not represent what my household watches!
    I want to see good, quality shows on the air – not this crap the Nielsen people are watching.

    Previously posted: “And I don’t buy any excuse that comes from Journeyman, I’m sorry but the fans of that show have no legitimate argument in crying foul about the treatment of that show. That show was given the best treatment NBC it could give. I mean come on, it was given the post-Heroes timeslot which was one of top rated show on NBC at that time, it was also given a decent amount of time to find an audience and allowed to air all its episodes. I personally did not like the show and the critics were at best lukewarm about it. I feel that scifi fans are like Star Trek fans, they accept and enjoy crap just because they are glad that scifi and it is being made”
    Sorry man, I absolutely disagree with you on this. The post-Heroes timeslot was not ideal for this show as the two appealed to two totally different audiences! Whereas Heroes is an over-the-top, humans with super-powers show, Journeyman is a family drama with hints of sci-fi; the sci-fi, however, is not the main focus of the show. There was also lackluster promotion for this show on NBC’s part…

  22. “As an awesome lecturer once taught me: never underestimate the lowest common denominator.”

    On THAT we agree, lol. :-)


  23. I can’t believe no one has mentioned the move to digital broadcasts. With the potential for two-way communication from every digital cable box back to the source, Neilson ratings should become obsolete. The networks will be able to have statistics on what EVERYONE is watching, not just a random selection.

  24. It seems to me like the ratings are far from acurate.. And when it comes to commercials people watch half the first one and mabe the 2 las ones not to miss the rest of the show- its pretty hard to know what you are getting for your money.

    And now days people dont let themselfs become slaves of the timeslots anymore- you don’t have to make sure you are at your home 8 every saturday for the whole year just to watch Lost(or whatever) -people use tivo , dvd recorders and downloads- not to talk of buying the whole season on dvd.

    Could they make tv series just for dvd sale? to risky? why not sign up people on line- would you like more star trek enterpise? sign on – when soandso many million people sign on we start bringing you the Bakula!

    -If we fan boys and sci-fi fans are so many and willing to pay for good sci-fi could we not make this happen?

  25. The ratings are skewed by who they choose to sample.

    I participated in one of the Australian ratings systems about 7 years ago. 300 households was the sample size, and they actually told me my demographic, single males, was woefully under-represented.

    That said, a lot of people I know like American Idol and shows like Law & Order, even the sci fi fans, so it doesn’t surprise me they are high in the ratings.

  26. There’s something to it… I’ve seen a lot Sci-Fi shows cancelled, while there was such a huge fanbase that this seemed like a great mistake… Perhaps it’s because the advertisements have a lesser effect on tech-savvy people (they tend to greatly ignore all ads) and because of that shows that are meant for such people have lesser ad-incomes.

  27. You have a great point Divers.

    Ads are useless time filling fodder that gets in the way of the show and they never persuade me, EVER.

    The scary part though, is that they do work or they wouldn’t exist!! dAh!!!

  28. Jeepers, Divers – I think you’ve hit the nail on the head! (I’m not being sarcastic, btw)

    The very science of television money-making means that shows aimed at an easily manipulated audience will always win out over those that appeal to the more discerning viewer. It’s simple logic, when you think about it… since, without advertising that works, there simply is no free television.

  29. And… with that in mind… let us all click on an ad.