Sure, ratings for “Supernatural” became irrelevant somewhere around the middle part of season four, but some dorks like me adore tracking them anyway. It kills a good afternoon at work. Relevant or not though, ratings are tracked, press releases are still done when they’re good, and even though they’re nothing more than a PR tool anymore, ratings bring attention to a show. Especially ones on a cut rate network.
“Supernatural” season six is in an awesome position. All it needs to do is pull numbers similar to last year and they go suddenly from demo drain to network superstar. Why? Friday nights. This is the night shows are perceived to go and die. Expectations are low. Lord knows the other networks (except CBS) have given up on it. This is finally the chance for The CW, the low rated “fifth place by a mile” network to actually compete. The CW, just like the predecessors UPN and The WB, have never competed in total viewers. They don’t want to. Their goal is to be better in coveted advertiser demo numbers. The gold standard for demo ratings is adults 18-49 but the CW is more specialized than that. They tout adults 18-34. On the other four nights, they especially go for 18-34 women. On Fridays though, any demo viewer will do. So far, the grand strategy is working.
The combination of “Smallville” and “Supernatural” on Friday nights is generating buzz for The CW. They’re actually now getting kudos from pundits that have previously knocked down whatever this network does. They’re calling it smart scheduling. “Smallville” in 18-49 recently finished first in its timeslot. Both “Smallville” and “Supernatural” are now routinely taking first place in their timeslots in 18-34. This past week, they both even drew more total viewers than Fox. Competing in total viewers is inconceivable on any other night.
I’ve just updated our year to year ratings chart so it now includes the first four episodes of season six. When comparing year to year, season six is hardly impressive. At one point in season one on The WB “Supernatural” was drawing around 5 million viewers. In season six that number at best is 2.9 million. Heck, a series low was hit just a couple of weeks ago with “The Third Man” at 2.16 million. Turns out though, they’re drawing similar numbers to season five when they were on Thursday night. The demo numbers are the same, but a 1.2 in the 18-49 demo on Thursday pulls last place where this past Friday night that 1.2 tied “Supernatural” for second place. Second! It’s also one of the best showings in the demo The CW gets all week. All that on “left-for-dead” Friday night.
Recent history proves that when shows are moved to Friday night from another night, ratings decrease. With “Smallville” and “Supernatural,” they’ve remarkably maintained. That’s a testament to their loyal fan bases that will follow them anywhere, which is exactly why they were chosen for Friday nights. The CW needed to put contenders in there, especially when their Fridays crashed after WWE Smackdown left the network. Many took this move as a condemnation of show death, but others knew it was an opportunity. The shows if anything were being pushed out of harms way and being allowed to shine.
Sure, overall viewers are down compared to other seasons, but that doesn’t matter anymore. Not too long ago a top rated scripted show, even on a Friday, took 20 million viewers. Now that number is down to 10 million. For The CW, top shows for them once took 5 million. Now, anything that comes remotely close to 3 million is golden.
It’s hard for people to get out of the overall viewers mentality though, for it’s an easy figure to swallow. People don’t care what advertisers want, they want to know how many viewers actually watched the show. That’s where the picture gets even murkier though. The fact remains we truly don’t know what the real bottom line is. Friday shows, because many of us are out and about on the weekends, get far better DVR numbers in terms of percentage increase than other nights (although the most DVR’d night is Thursday). The problem is Nielsen doesn’t release DVR numbers to the public like they do overnight ratings figures. A lot of shows will get a 30 to 50 percent bump thanks to DVR in total viewers. There’s online viewing too. Network websites and iTunes sales aren’t released, advertised and promoted the way those live ratings are. “Supernatural” and “Smallville” for the past few seasons also rank higher in DVD sales than most other shows, including top network draws like “House” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” They by far outsell any other titles on The CW.
The truth is, we really don’t know how many people are actually watching the show in the US. There’s also a whole international market out there in which we have no clue how the show is performing. All we know is internationally “Supernatural” is very popular and shown in a lot of countries. Shows that do well on the international market anymore will have a longer life, no matter how they perform in the US. For example, want to know why “The Event” was just given a full season by NBC even though the ratings are crashing? Simple, the show was sold to over 200 countries. International interest is a large reason as to why “Supernatural” has survived this long. Now, a syndication deal with TNT isn’t hurting either.
In the meantime, when we here at The Winchester Family Business get all excited that “Supernatural” and “Smallville” are getting huge kudos for pulling the same numbers on a different night, it’s just because on a Friday that means that they’re actually a top draw. The CW will take the attention anyway they can get it and us fans have never objected to love for our shows. As a matter of fact, we’ve often protested our shows never get it. If anything, season seven for “Supernatural” is looking more like a done deal, especially since this is “Smallville’s” last season. “Supernatural” will have to carry on the proud Friday night torch. It’s not a bad place to be.