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Popular Opinion and TV Network Decisions: Should Execs Chase the Money or the Public’s Good Graces?

August 2nd, 2018   ||    by Melanie Brown

TV networks, once shadowy conglomerate organizations that rarely made civilian news, recently have become subject to public opinion, thanks to the conduit of social media. Whether it’s a cult-hit/ratings flop being axed before its prime, or a ratings hit that was cut after a celebrity tweet gone wrong, executive decisions are now subject to backlash from the network’s audience.

TV network decisions have always been based on audience opinion. For a pilot to even be picked up by a network, it has to perform well in focus groups of viewers in order to gauge the potential audience. If a show is underperforming in ratings, and subsequently not bringing in ad dollars the way the network wants it to, it gets cut.

Audiences Show No Mercy

Audiences lately are showing no mercy when it comes to TV network decisions. Andy Samberg’s cult-hit cop comedy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, was dropped by Fox after five seasons, and fans came out in droves on social media to protest the cancellation. While Fox stood by its call, NBC took notice and, according to TV Line, picked up the sitcom for a sixth season.

At the other end of the spectrum sits the shows that may perform well in ratings, but with which audience members have a bone to pick. Case in point: the pre-upfront slashing of ties by ABC with its hit revival of Roseanne after audiences reacted with vitriol to its star’s racially charged and Islamophobic tweet, and demanded cancellation.

Last year, NBC reported that Fox News cut ties with one of its highest rated (and most lucrative) stars, Bill O’Reilly, following audience outrage over allegations of sexual harassment and predation that persisted for more than a decade of the pundit’s 21 years on air. Fox News has also had to consider the financial repercussions of its stars’ on-air comments, which have given advertisers pause when considering the perception of the brand in line with the programming.

Making Decisions From a Multitude of Angles

Social media has become a venue for audience members to share their true opinions with TV networks. Ratings only tell part of the story; like so much in our technocentric, hyper-connected world, TV network decisions are occupying more space in the public eye than ever before, and with audiences staying more informed about social, political, and cultural climates around the country, it’s understandable that the networks are feeling the pressure to make decisions from a multitude of different angles.

Now’s the time when executives need to decide how much value they place on public opinion, before committing to a potentially controversial show with nice financial results.

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