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Series Ending Effects: After the Big Bang (Theory)

July 30th, 2019   ||    by Callie Wheeler

CBS may soon be all too familiar with series ending effects like dropping network ratings, declining advertising dollars, and flailing attempts to right the ship. The cause of this potential string of sorrows? The end of the network’s hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory.

The series ended in May after 12 successful seasons, commanding top dollar for advertising slots (30-second ad spots for its finale were priced at $1.5 million, according to Variety) and pulling in a steady stream of viewers. So, what’s next? How does the network fill the gaping hole where its star series once stood? And how does the impact differ for cable series?

Finding the Next Success

For CBS, the next step is finding their next hit series. As a recent Forbes piece noted, the network likely worked to position a successor prior to The Big Bang Theory went off the air, before any series ending effects even had a chance to occur. But shows like Young Sheldon have not met the mark, and there is no clear replacement.

Interestingly, CBS’s newly appointed chief creative officer, David Nevins, has a history with hit television, beginning in the 90s as part of NBC’s “Must See TV” lineup. His past successes include ER and Will and Grace at NBC, plus Showtime’s Billions and the Twin Peaks revival.

As noted in the LA Times, his promotion comes at a time when broadcast networks are working hard to retain their audiences and remain relevant to cord-cutters. But it also comes as the network looks for a series to replace its hit show, illustrating how much pressure is on networks to keep ratings up in an uncertain landscape.

It’s Not Easy Being a Network

Considering the advertising dollars and ratings network hits rake in, it’s clear why a series ending has a huge impact. But it’s different for cable. Compare AMC’s hit shows Mad Men and Breaking Bad with classic network sitcoms Friends and Seinfeld.

The Breaking Bad series finale drew in about 10 million viewers. The series finales of Friends and Seinfeld, by contrast, drew in 52 million and 76 million respectively, according to Time. A 30-second spot during the Breaking Bad finale cost about $250,000, while the same cost twice as much (not including inflation) towards the end of Seinfeld.

And yet, the ratings and advertising dollars come as a surprise to many. The prestige series on cable networks garner such critics’ praise and coverage that we assume they are commanding top advertising dollars. The Atlantic revealed the truth: cable networks have greater flexibility in how they earn their profits. During the third season of Mad Men, all showings netted less than $2 million in advertising revenue. The real profit came from carriage fees, online licensing, and international licensing.

The Takeaway

For both broadcast and cable networks, a series end means it’s time to find a replacement. But the pressure is greater on broadcast networks to make up the advertising revenue, and therefore ratings, as quickly as possible.

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